Read, Discuss, Debate, Repeat...

Monday, August 21, 2017
We recently asked Library staff and a few members about their book clubs: What are you reading now? How was the book chosen? Does your club have any rules or guidelines? Have you read anything in the club lately that you really liked? Was there a book that really got a lively discussion going? Their responses are included below and will hopefully provide inspiration for your book club or for future solo reading. 
Are you in a book club? If so, feel free to use the comments field below to share your thoughts. 
Carol Weston, NYSL member and author of children's and young adult books: I’ve been in the same book club for over 25 years. Right now we are reading A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. We don’t have set rules or guidelines, but we meet in each other’s homes for dinner and if the host is keen to tackle a certain book, we often go with her choice. If not, we throw titles out or read reviews or first pages aloud and then make a decision. It’s pretty informal. We often pick new novels (e.g. Homegoing), but we like nonfiction too (e.g. When Breath Becomes Air) as well as classics that we either missed in school or are happy to revisit (e.g. My Antonia and Madame Bovary). We even read the graphic memoir, Fun Home. Without my book club, I’m not sure when I would have made time for Anna Karenina and War and Peace. As far as books that most of us admired or that sparked lively discussions, there’s All The Light We Cannot See and Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Personally, I’m always on the look-out for short, wonderful books, such as Buddha in the Attic and The Moon Is Down. I’m very grateful to this group of women friends because they keep me reading, and they never hold it against me if I occasionally don’t finish an assigned book because I get too caught up with my own work-in-progress.  
Randi Levy, Head of the Children’s Library: I am in a book club that has been meeting in each other’s homes approximately once a month for the past 4 years. We are currently reading Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. Our main rule is that there are no rules—we read all types of books from new to classics, fiction and non-fiction. Every member is welcome to make suggestions for the next read and part of the fun of each meeting is discussing, debating, and haggling over what to read next. Half the time at least one person in attendance hasn’t read the current book. Fun Home, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, and Commonwealth have been favorite book club reads of mine. Going Clear is a book that I found compelling, and I would never have read it if not for its selection for book club. The book that’s garnered the most conversation was A Little Life. Some loved it, some hated it, one person read it twice, some didn’t love it but were glad they read it, two book club members made a pact with each other to not read the book…based on the image on the cover of the book! 
Betsy Carter & Aryn Kyle, Library members: We’re about to read The London Train, by Tessa Hadley. We have a unique system for choosing books. Whomever is the next host sends around three suggestions: a classic, a novel, a non-fiction book, then we all vote. So far, it works. I’d say those are the only rules and guidelines we have. The last book that we all LOVED was H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald.  Most books inspire lively discussions, but Falling by Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Euphoria by Lily King incited really heated discussions.
Joan Zimmett, Director of Development: I am in a book club that meets every six weeks. Each time it is hosted by a different member who selects the book, provides dinner, which is supposed to be modest, and leads the discussion. Our main rule is that you must have read the book in order to attend the meeting. There are no guidelines regarding genre, length (though sometimes I wish there were) or anything else as far as I know. A few months ago we read Philip Roth’s Plot Against America. Published in 2004, it is “an alternate history” where Franklin D. Roosevelt loses the 1940 presidential election to Charles A. Lindbergh. Our discussion was especially powerful. We are now reading Sebastian Smee’s The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art published in August 2016.
Carolyn Waters, Head Librarian: We are currently reading A Small Revolution by Jimin Han. It was suggested by one of the members, who has invited the author to lead our discussion. Ours is a relatively new book club, and members’ ages range from mid-20s to mid-50s, so we’re still getting to know each other, learning what we all like to read. So far, we’ve only tackled fiction. All of the books we’ve read so far have garnered very mixed reactions, which has made for interesting discussions. Personally, I really enjoyed Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. We recently read The Underground Railroad which generated a lot of discussion about magical realism, Colson Whitehead’s clever incorporation of the historical record, and a debate about whether the book was Pulitzer Prize worthy. 
Sydney LeBlanc, Library member: We’ve hammered it out over 20 years, while hanging on to our holy trinity: books, food and wine. One member selects the book each month; we proceed in alphabetical order. The person who selects the book acts as the “moderator” of the discussion. We’re open to any genre (except poetry, which doesn’t really work). We are currently reading Iris Orego: Marchesa of Val d’Orca by Caroline Moorehead. Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller was a recent personal favorite, and Caveat Emptor by Ken Perenyi (a nonfiction book about art forgery and the NYC art world from about 1970 to recent times) really got a lively discussion going. 
Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children's and Young Adult Librarian: For over 4 years, I have been a member of the Not Just for YA Book Club organized by Westchester Library System librarians. We generally meet once a month in White Plains to discuss our current read, YA buzz, and more. Our selections are made by communal vote and we try to focus on titles that we feel are Printz-worthy, i.e. likely to receive the highest accolades in the YA genre. Twice a year, we have special meetings: in January, at a Mock Awards event, we aim to predict the Printz winners before they are announced at the ALA midwinter meeting and then in the spring, we have a Printz Pizza Party where we discuss the actual winners. This year, we accurately predicted 3 of the 5 winner and honor titles, March: Book Three, The Passion of Dolssa, and The Sun Is Also a Star. Currently, I am reading one of the Printz honors, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, billed as a more thought-provoking Hunger Games. We occasionally have local YA authors visit to discuss their titles and we have also hosted Skype chats with YA authors not based in the area. One of our most memorable discussions was that for E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars; it was nearly 3 years ago, but I still get chastised for the strong opinions I expressed then! Through participation in this group, some favorites I have discovered (and added to the NYSL YA-High School collection) are Ashley Hope PĂ©rez’s Out of Darkness (a 2016 Printz Honor title), the short story collections featuring a stunning lineup of YA wunderkind, My True Love Gave To Me and Summer Days and Summer Nights, Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, and Michael Williams’s Diamond Boy (and its companion, Now Is The Time for Running). What I most enjoy about being a member of this group is the friendships I have formed with other YA librarians and readers who share my passion for promoting this genre.
Further Reading
Dodd, Mead, 1897
Duke University Press, 2010
University of Chicago Press, 2003
Chicago Review Press, c2000
Crown, c1995
Quill, 2000
HarperPerennial, 1999
The Prison Book Club | Ann Walmsley
Viking, 2015
"Dear Book Club: It's You, Not Me" by Judith Newman. New York Times, May 11, 2017

How the Silent Book Club Gave Me Back My Reading Life” by Maggie Downs. Lithub, August 16, 2017.

Fiction featuring book clubs:
W.W. Norton & Company, 2016
The Jane Austen Book Club | Karen Joy Fowler
Putnam, 2004
Dinner with Anna Karenina | Gloria Goldreich
MIRA, 2006
Summer Reading | Hilma Wolitzer
Ballantine Books, 2007
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society | Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
The Dial Press, 2008
HarperCollins, 2009
You or Someone Like You | Chandler Burr
Ecco Press, 2009
Suzanne Davis Gets a Life | Paula Marantz Cohen
Paul Dry Books, 2014

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