Remember the old stereotype of the solitary bookworm, with no friends and nowhere to go? You can forget that image now. It's out of date.

Reading may seem like a lonely pastime, but for the avid readers who belong to one of Sonoma County's hundreds of book clubs, reading leads to a lively social life.

"The main reason to join a book club is the discussion," said Julie Bickford of Sonoma. "There's a type of person who joins a book club. They're interested in exploring new thoughts."

The 50-year-old retired computer company manager currently belongs to three book clubs, including the relatively new and rather unusual Santa Rosa Walking Book Club.

"We meet at different places, usually a restaurant, and then we walk around Spring Lake and talk about the book," Bickford said.

Last weekend, a dozen or so members of the club strolled while discussing "Catching Fire," the second book in Suzanne Collins' "Hunger Games" series.

"I've had people say, 'I really like the fact that we actually talk about the books,' " Bickford said. "What happens with some of the book clubs, like some of the ones that meet in bars, is they don't ever talk about the books."

The cleverly named Eat, Drink and Be Literary Book Club in Petaluma follows a more conventional format, with members taking turns hosting the meetings at their homes. But they do spend some extra effort on the menu for each event.

"Sometimes we make the food fit the theme," said Jenny Belforte, one of the club's leaders. "If the book is about Cajun country, we might do jambalaya."

Belforte, 42, an online researcher for health agencies, hospitals and universities, has two sons in grade school, and enjoys meeting with other women who have children the same age.

"We all have kids, and we all love to read. That's a positive message to show your kids that it's important to read, and to make time to read," Belforte said.

"When I read a book, I really want to talk about it with someone," she added. "I love being able to discuss what I liked about a book, and what I didn't."

While it might seem that the Internet is the natural enemy of people who read books, it has proven to be their ally. The Walking Book Club, for example, was organized through www.meetup.com, a website that helps people set up interest clubs of all kinds.

"You can go online now and get questions for book club discussions on various books, but I also like to take those and tailor them for our group," Bickford said.

And not all book clubbers insist on reading a hard copy. Some members prefer to use electronic means when they read the club's book of the month.

"Some of them do read the books on Kindle," Bickford said, "but I prefer to read a paperback. When you're going to a book club meeting, it's nice to be able to put Post-It notes and tags on the pages. People highlight what they love or hate."

Some clubs hook up with local book stores, which allows them to order books to discuss and attend special events. Some 225 book clubs, including Eat, Drink and Be Literary, have registered with Copperfield's Books alone, said the local chain's marketing and events director, Vicki DeArmon.

"We're offering a lot of perks to book club members," DeArmon said. "At least three times this season, we're going to have club mixers ahead of author appearances. There will be all sorts of prizes, and opportunities to form a club."

Even small local clubs carry some clout in the book world, DeArmon explained.

"Authors know that book clubs often can be that slow fire that starts a bestseller, so the authors have been a lot more willing to come and speak to book clubs," she said.

"If you can read the book, and then the author appears at your book club, that's pretty intense," DeArmon said. "That's something you can't get on amazon.com."

(You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.pressdemocrat.com.)