Sonoma County book clubs focus on shared, specific passions

Betty Ferris, right, shares her thoughts on the book, Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics and Praxis, during a meeting of the Peace and Justice Book Club, in Santa Rosa on Thursday, September 7, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)


“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.

The group does more than read: they look for ways to implement change in the community. Inspired by “Mountains Beyond Mountains” — a biography of Dr. Paul Farmer and his international work with the nonprofit Partners In Health — club members visited a community health center for a deeper understanding of health care resources close to home.

Under the umbrella of the Spiritual Enrichment Center founded by Sister Antonia Killian in the 1990s, the center was conceived to give Ignatian (Jesuit) spiritual direction to interested Catholics. The club welcomes all and the discussion, like the reading list, is not necessarily religious in theme.

“We talk a lot about politics and a couple of members are active politically” said Mike Wall who cites “A Fighting Chance” by Elizabeth Warren as a selection he especially enjoyed reading.

How does the sound of truffled baby potatoes grab you? How about sachertorte? These are delicacies brought to the Foodie Book Club. The books are “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver and “Ground Up” by Michael Idov respectively, and these titles inspired readers to prepare the above dishes to share with fellow club members.

We’re back to food and drink, which can be found at the Sebastopol Regional Library on the last Wednesday of every month. A rare library-hosted club held in the evening, participants read food-related titles of various genres then discuss these books while feasting on potluck delights based on the literature.

The club was the idea of Sebastopol library manager Mathew Rose. “I noticed that the common theme of food was threaded through many of the books on my to-read list. A book club is a great way to motivate one to read more. If I were the only person who wanted to read about food, then the book club would flop. But it turns out there is a lot of great writing about food.”

Road trip! Well, across-the-road trip. For the selection of “A History of the World in 6 Glasses” by Tom Standage, the club went on a Barlow crawl tasting beverages such as beer, coffee and gin. “At each stop, we discussed the corresponding chapter of the book,” Rose explains of the nearby district known for gastronomical offerings.

Rose sends out a newsletter and select subscribers will reply with observations about the upcoming book selection but won’t necessarily attend the discussion.

“I love to talk about books,” Rose continues. “We are passionate about serving our library community. Hosting book clubs is one of the most fun and rewarding ways to encourage lifelong learning, enable community connections and promote literacy.”