“Today’s book is ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary.’ Now let’s go around the room and analyze why we didn’t read it.” So begins Marge in a book club spoof on “The Simpsons.” It could be fair to say book clubs have taken a beating in pop culture since Oprah Winfrey popularized the modern-day incarnation with the launch of her club two decades ago.
Despite the knocks, book clubs have endured beyond fad status. Talking about books is infectious: friends enjoy meeting to swap impressions of current fiction, classic literature and popular non-fiction. Part social, some clubs are known for the vino, the hummus and the general chit-chat, as much as the delving into the motives of Hester Prynne. In this way the talk feeds the literature and vice versa.
Such clubs serve as a treasure hunt for authors and titles and provide a chance to revisit an author’s style and themes. Seasoned book-club devotee Betty Ferris describes it this way. “It doesn’t matter if you like the book or not because you learn something from every book.”
What’s that? You love to gab about literature, but gussying up the powder room for your turn as host is not your bag? Crave the freedom to mingle with fellow bookworms sans the social obligation? Fret not, your community has a club for you.
The Windsor Senior Center, for example, has a brand new mystery book club. In partnership with the Windsor Regional Library, membership draws from library patrons, and is looking to recruit new readers. Attendees who find the center a convenient location and visit for other events are prime candidates.
“We meet patrons where they are in the community, rather than having them come to us. Hopefully, though, these fun meetings will compel them to come to the library and explore our other great offerings — books, audio books, music, movies and educational and entertainment opportunities,” says Vicki Chavez, Windsor’s adult services librarian.
This club supplements the senior center’s schedule, joining among other things, TED talk videos as events combining the social with the cerebral. The group meets the first Monday of the month and one can expect lively thumbs-up, thumbs-down-style mini-reviews by scholars of the mystery genre. Joanne De Alejandro is jotting down the names of authors being mentioned as they fly up and down the table at a recent meeting. She enjoys meeting fellow readers and “I love history so I would enjoy a history book club,” she explains, “especially presidential history.”
Mike Wall belongs to the Peace and Justice Book Club, which meets every Thursday afternoon in Santa Rosa. “The books we read are about peace and justice, and the lack of it. What I like about the club is the opportunity to be in the company of like-minded people who are reasonably intelligent and trying to do the right thing.”
A recent reading list included “A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change, and Community,” by Sister Simone Campbell and “Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race,” by Debby Irving. The lengthy subtitles reflect complex social concerns. Club leader Betty Ferris appreciates discussing these difficult subjects in a group setting. “I doubt I would read these books on my own.” she admits, regarding the support she finds in the club setting.