Book Groups: sharing the experience of reading

Book groups (also referred to as reading groups, book clubs and other various combinations of those words) are a great way to keep in the reading habit as well as to enjoy some social interaction with others interested in reading. Book groups are a fairly traditional part of library programming and the South Portland Public Library (as well as the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth) offer several ongoing groups based at our libraries as well as – in the case of South Portland – outside of the walls of the library.

The South Portland Public Library offers five regular, monthly, book groups. These groups offer a range of options for differing reading tastes, as well as options for meeting days, times, locations and – in our newest offering – age. Three of these groups meet at the main library and one at the branch, as well as a regular, off-site, group we conduct at the Betsy Ross House. While book groups are traditionally aimed squarely at adults, our Youth Services department has recently launched a group specifically for our teen readers.

The Main Library’s Morning Book Group is a friendly gathering of readers who enjoy talking about books. Over the years the group has read a various selection of fiction and non-fiction. These have included The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson, and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. Library staff facilitates the group and participants recommend and decide on the titles to be read. The Main Library Morning Book Group generally meets on the third Tuesday of the month, at 10:30, in the Kaler Room at the Main Library.

The Main Library also offers an Evening Book Group, which we think of as being quite adventurous. This group reads an eclectic assortment of fiction and non-fiction, with recent selections including Ann Patchett’s novel, State of Wonder (We gave it a mixed review – ambitious authorial reach but it didn’t quite hold together for us as a story), Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (Our discussion was wide-ranging and thoughtful), and Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf (We’re not big fans of misogyny and gore, even when it is written with eloquent, literary verve). As with the Morning Book Group, Library staff facilitates this group and participants recommend and decide on the titles to be read. The Main Library Evening Book Group generally meets on the second Thursday of the month, at 6:30, in the Kaler Room at the Main Library.

Over at the Memorial Branch Library, the Branch Book Group offers a convenient evening gathering for book lovers on the western side of the city. This group reads a wide range of books, fiction and nonfiction, from classics to more contemporary works. Past books for this group include, Truman by David McCullough, Shanghai Girls by Lisa See and The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian. Volunteer participants facilitate the group and the group chooses the titles. The Branch Book Group generally meets on the first Monday of the Month, at 6:00, at the Branch Library.

A somewhat unique book group offering, which meets monthly, outside of a library building, is the Betsy Ross House Book Group. This group is a perfect fit if you’re a passionate reader who enjoys discussing books that are part of the mainstream cultural current. Recent titles include The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Girl in the Blue Beret by Bobbie Ann Mason, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese and The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. Just because the critics like it, doesn’t mean that Betsy Ross House readers will! Independent of mind, we decide for ourselves if the buzz on a book is merited. Discussions are spirited and full of good humor. Although this group meets in the Betsy Ross House Library, members of the community are welcome and encouraged to join us at any time.  The Betsy Ross House Book Group generally meets on the first Thursday of the Month, at 1:30, at the Betsy Ross House in South Portland.

Finally, the newest addition to our assortment of library-sponsored book groups is Page Turners, which is the once a month, Thursday afternoon meeting for teen readers, at the Main Library. Molly in the Youth Services department kicked this off at the beginning of this year and we are actively encouraging new participants to help us grow a strong, sustainable, group. If you are (or know) a teen reader, please feel free to get in touch with Molly for more details.

Our involvement in book groups is not limited to just the five groups I have outlined above. Many reading aficionados participate in groups that are independent of the library, such as groups of friends meeting at a home, or coworkers meeting at work, on lunch breaks. The library helps to support these groups by not only being available to suggest possible titles for a group to consider reading, but also by enabling users to put the power of the shared Minerva network to their advantage and obtaining multiple copies of titles, quickly, for use by a group.

If you are interested in joining a book group or having the library help your existing group out in any way, please do not hesitate to visit our web site or to get in touch with us directly for more information. Happy reading!

A special thanks to the library staff members who contributed to the descriptions of their book groups for this column.

Kevin M. Davis, Director, South Portland Public Library

This post was originally published as a Library Links column in the South Portland-Cape Elizabeth Sentry on April 25, 2014

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