Book clubs highlight link between books, libraries

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by Steve Zalusky

Book clubs and libraries are a natural fit. After all, libraries promote literacy to patrons of all ages, fostering a love of reading in children and young adults, as well as offering resources to adults seeking to improve their reading skills.

By supporting book clubs, libraries expand the horizons of their patrons, while promoting social interaction and community engagement.

The Gail Borden Public Library District in Elgin, Illinois explains its support for book clubs on its website – “Book clubs offer readers the opportunity to enrich their reading experience by sharing their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives.”

Its library book discussion groups include one focusing on contemporary fiction and another on great books. Another group, the Walking Book Club,  exercises its feet as well as its mind, meeting for a 45-minute walk, followed by a 45-minute discussion.

At the Canton (Michigan) Public Library, the clubs include an adult contemporary book discussion group, a seniors book group, a non-fiction book group and a “Book Club-in-a-Bag.” The latter is designed to help patrons hold their own book discussions with friends and colleagues and includes a kit that contains copies of a particular book, as well as additional materials for facilitating conversations. The kits can be held for as long as 11 weeks.

Also, Canton offers email book clubs that enable patrons to receive a small portion of a book daily in their email. One can discuss a book with people across the country and even visit the Book Club Forum administered by DearReader.

Librarian Kim Brandow said, “I think a lot of times people want to talk to each other, but there are taboo subjects, especially in this day and age, to talk about. This is kind of a safe thing to talk about. A book might touch on some of those things, but it’s in the context of the book. It makes it a safe place to conduct discussions on a variety of things.”

Brandow said she is involved in the selection process.  “Many of the selections are based on reviews,” as well as book buzz. “They have to be discussable and they have to have at least one librarian from the group that has read the book.”

It also has to be a good fit for the group.  “All these groups have different personalities,” she said. “We don’t want them not to enjoy the title,” but sometimes it is preferable to choose based on the potential for discussion.

The groups, she said, can be as large as 25 and as small as four.  “Generally people are just grateful,” she said. “We often get comments about how great the book group is and (how) they hope it never goes away.”

Book clubs recently received a boost from the American Library Association (ALA), which has created a new online platform of reading resources, including recommendations, expert book lists and other content for book clubs and their readers. Book Club Central is being designed to provide the public with the very best in reading.

Book Club Central Sponsoring Partners are Booklist, the book review magazine of the ALA; United for Libraries, a division of the ALA; and Libraries Transform, the ALA’s public awareness campaign, along with Corporate Platinum Partner Penguin Random House. Other Corporate Partners include NoveList and OverDrive.

Award-winning television and film actor, producer, designer, library supporter and avid reader Sarah Jessica Parker is partnering with the ALA to serve as the Honorary Chair of Book Club Central.

As honorary chair, Parker will provide a selection of recommended titles for Book Club Central throughout the year.

"I can’t think of anyone more perfect than Sarah Jessica Parker to be the American Library Association chair of Book Club Central,” said ALA Immediate Past President Julie Todaro. Ms. Parker is an advocate for libraries and literacy issues, has served on a Presidential Task Force to integrate literature and drama into schools, has experience starting a book club, is the Editorial Director of a new line of books: SJP for Hogarth, and is –  most importantly – a lifelong reader who shares her love of reading with others. The ALA is lucky to be able to sshareMs. Parker’s passion and expertise with book clubs and readers everywhere.”

Parker’s first selection is “No One Is Coming to Save Us,” by Stephanie Powell Watts, published by Ecco/an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

 “No One Is Coming to Save Us” is an exploration of the American Dream among African Americans in the South. A story about the ghosts of the past and departed, as well as the lives of the living, the novel is a complex, post-integrationist tale that charts new territory. Kirkus Reviews said, “The Great Gatsby is revived in an accomplished debut novel…Watts spins a compelling tale of obsessive love and dashed dreams set in a struggling North Carolina town.” Publishers Weekly wrote, “… [it] hits home—and hard” and “Watts powerfully depicts the struggles many Americans face trying to overcome life’s inevitable disappointments.” Booklist stated, "This feels like an important, largely missing part of our ongoing American story."

Powell Watts is an associate professor of English at Lehigh University, and has won numerous awards, including a Whiting Award, a Pushcart Prize and the Southern Women’s Writers Award for Emerging Writer of the Year. She is the author of the short story collection, “We Are Taking Only What We Need.”

Powell Watts said, “Since I was a child, I have spent many happy hours in libraries. The library offered me respite, refuge and an opportunity to experience the beauty and complexity of the world and its people. I am particularly thrilled and honored for my book to be selected by Ms. Parker and the ALA.”

Parker recently launched SJP for Hogarth in partnership with Molly Stern, Senior Vice President and Publisher of Crown, Hogarth, Broadway, Crown Archetype, and Three Rivers Press. SJP for Hogarth will selectively publish high-quality works of fiction by both established writers and distinctive emerging voice with critical and commercial promise.

Parker said, “From an early age, books were my constant companions and my local library a place I could find a new friend on every shelf. It is a great honor and privilege to partner with the American Library Association and Book Club Central. I’m thrilled to help champion original voices for dedicated readers as well as for a new generation, supporting libraries iiin hat they do best.”

Book Club Central can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

For more information, please visit www.bookclubcentral.org and for SJP for Hogarthwww.sjpforhogarth.com