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October is National Reading Group Month

October is National Reading Group Month, sponsored by the Women’s National Book Association. Celebrate the month and its Great Group Reads program at this Booklist webinar. Join popular readers'-advisory expert Kaite Mediatore Stover to hear about her long experience running and blogging about library book groups and get programming ideas, tips, and recommendations for your own National Reading Group Month/Great Group Reads celebrations.


I am part of two book groups at my library and enjoy both of them so much! Not only do I get to read things I wouldn’t normally pick up, I am able to talk about them with people who have become good friends through the years of meeting together. Both of my groups meet over the noon hour, so participants are welcome to bring along their lunches if they want. I provide background information on the author and title as well as discussion questions if they exist, though often the conversation happens without the need for questions! I never see myself as the “leader” of the book group – we are all equal participants. I do watch to make sure everyone has a chance to speak, and even if they haven’t finished the book (which happens to me now and then also), everyone’s input is valued. Sometimes the best discussion happens when someone has NOT finished the book. In any case, the hour simply flies by – who knew work could be so much fun! Becky Baker Seward Memorial Library
Book groups provide a means for people to get together and share their reading passions. Participants have the opportunity to meet and greet and interact with people with whom they might not have any other contact. Participants also have the opportunity to learn from other’s perspectives and in a polite and open group they have the chance to express themselves in a non-threatening environment. I am involved with two different groups at two different libraries and different procedures are used with each group. One group plans its reading list in advance of each calendar year. All interested parties suggest titles for the coming year. A list is put together and voting is done before the end of each year in preparation for the new year. Members select the months when they would like to facilitate the discussions and select from the chosen titles. The other group plans only 3-4 months in advance. Numerous suggestions are made and a lot of discussion takes place before actual titles are chosen for those 3-4 months. Even though I would personally like to see us plan further out into the future, this does give us the option to choose something a little more pleasurable if we have had a long run of dismal titles. There are only two of us who take on the task of facilitating the discussions. Not that we have to read happy and uplifting books at each get-together, but some of the books with which we have struggled have been those with depressing themes. The Glass Castle and Grapes of Wrath come to mind. Controversial titles or subjects have also been challenges. They have been as diverse as Harry Potter, All the King’s Men, The Handmaids Tale, Enrique’s Journey, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the Left Behind Series. The meeting location is not crucial; however both of these groups are connected to specific libraries so most of the meetings take place at those locations. We are kind of crammed into a corner at one library so we all have to be willing to be cozy with each other. MeMe Smith, Schuyler Public Library
One of the first questions I ask a friend whom I haven't seen for a while is "What are you reading?" Not only to get ideas for future reads for myself and make recommendations to my friend, but to discuss the ones we both have read. Being able to share thoughts about literature (both the ridiculous and the sublime) really enriches my reading experience. And being part of a book group lets me do that sharing on a regular basis. Our group has very diverse interests and we take turns selecting fiction and nonfiction books to discuss. Some inspire us to ponder philosophical and sociological issues, and some are far from being great literature (we often choose a fluffy "beach read" in the summer). But respecting one another's choices while being honest about our reactions is an important ground rule, that I think all good book groups should have. Being part of the group has broadened my reading a great deal - left to my own devices nearly all my reading would be fiction --historical, mysteries or fantasies. In our group it's common for some of us to have "read" the book with our ears, not our eyes. That adds a whole new dimension to a discussion -- was the narrator good? Was the plot too confusing to lend itself to listening? Did the listeners miss important points if they got distracted? What about using an e-reader instead of turning the pages? Does it limit being able to browse pages back and forth? It's all grist for the discussion mill. I feel very lucky to have folks to do that with. B, Lincoln
"I belong to a book group first and foremost because I enjoy it. It is, simply, fun. A book group takes what is essentially a private activity (reading) and moves it into a social setting where reflection and discussion can enhance that initial experience. To work, the group must be respectful, allowing for differing opinions and equal contribution from all who wish to speak. The liveliest discussions often occur when there is some disagreement, and that can only happen in an atmosphere where people feel free to express their opinions. Our book group has opened doors to books I would not have read and provided insight into favorites. At its best, a book group is a satisfying and rewarding experience for all its members" C, Lincoln
"I joined my book club because I needed to branch out in my reading, and boy did I. I’ve been reading such a WIDE variety of material from A to Z, and I love it. Some books I love and can’t put down, others or not as much to my taste but I keep going because someone took the time to select this book for me to read so I feel somewhat of a duty to finish it. I’ve learned a lot from the books I’ve been opened up to, but I’ve also learned a lot from my co-book clubbers. I belong to an Adult book club and a Young Adult book club, and I find I enjoy the young adult books more so these selections I sometimes go on to read more of the authors publications. Food – how can you have a meeting without food, we meet and eat together sometimes bringing our food choices into the conversation. All in all a good time is had by all." J, Lincoln
Our discussion group celebrated 12 years in February of this year. Our goal is to read books we might not read otherwise. Generally we have mixed reactions to books, with some readers loving a book and one or two others who couldn't even get through it. (Generally, those books make for the best discussions.) We tend to stay away from "genre" books, like mysteries fantasy, and thrillers, simply because there is less to discuss beyond plot than there is in a family saga, books about other cultures or about relationships. We generally don't like Oprah picks (too depressing) while still enjoying a book that makes us re-evaluate our thinking. We read both fiction and non-fiction. We've been lucky that over the years, we've only had two or three people who try to force their views as the "correct" views, or try to take over the discussion. We have stayed small (10-12 members) mostly because we don't have room to accommodate more people. I think a small group is easier to manage: everyone who wants to can express an opinion, whereas they might feel intimidated in a large group. The group has encouraged all of us to discuss whatever we're reading with others. Some favorites: Memoirs of a Geisha, Snowflower and the Secret Fan, Briar Rose, Undaunted Courage, Les Miserables, and Nickel and Dimed. I could go on and on and on.  Mitchell Public Library
"I don't belong to a book group to "keep myself reading" or to "get the scoop" on new titles. I belong to book groups because of the deep and lasting relationships I've developed with people that were spawned from the differing perspectives/thoughts about the books we read. My book groups have to be built on trust and a sense of humor or I don't join/stay. I love book groups in which one can share relevant moments of their life journey similar to or different from a character's life journey and laugh or cry or shout about it and know that "what's said in Vegas stays in Vegas." B, Lincoln
"The book group helps people read books which they might not otherwise read. It exposes them to different authors and various genres of books. A book group for us is a diverse group of people who do not otherwise socialize. The age group is varied also which brings different perspectives to the discussion. The membership comes because they enjoy reading and like to hear what other people have to say about the book which they also read. Our book club members are not necessarily the patrons who come in often to the library, because I feel that they have their own library collection in their homes. Also I think that they are not afraid to reread a book. They have often said that a second or even third reading of a book brings more depth of understanding depending upon where they are in life at the time. We meet in the library meeting room and started out having snacks; soon the members said that the snacks were too time consuming and got in the way of the discussion. They were unnecessary. I offer coffee and water. We discuss for one hour because everyone is so busy. We have never had an author visit our book club. We have taken field trips to see the homes of Nebraska authors and to Neligh where Chief Standing Bear and his daughter are buried following the reading of I Am A Man. Our only rule which is adhered to pretty well is that we cannot have a blanket statement "I did not like this book". When someone announces that at the beginning it tends to stifle discussion. We can say I did not care for the way the characters were presented, or the plot seemed to develop slowly, etc. There has to be a reason given for why the book was not appreciated. I would say that Freedom by Jonathan Franzen was the book which was really hard for the members to appreciate. We discussed if our small rural background might have colored our impression of the book. How might it have been accepted in a metropolitan area?" Kathy Muller, Gardner Public Library
"Having the reading practices typical of a graduate of an English department, I expect to talk about a book after I read it. It's natural to have an opinion about anything you read and even more natural to express it to others. What is a book group if not an arena for precisely that to occur? The best way to measure whether you'll enjoy attending a particular book club is to sit in on a session before committing to attending regularly. Ideally you want a group of people who will, at least some of the time, actually read, dissect and converse about the book selection. You also want a group that will choose books that might engage you, challenge you, even stretch your reading horizons. I usually struggle with books that deal with the pain of the human condition. Some of that is tolerable, even desired in a novel or memoir, but constantly being shown only the worst part of society and human nature is unpalatable to me. I come because, even if I disliked or did not have the opportunity to read the book, I want to be invited back each time and to listen to what other people got out of the book." A, Lincoln
"It is important to sponsor a book group to entice the population that may not otherwise use the public library. Once they become comfortable entering the library, we find they start checking out other library materials and become advocates for the library. Staff has heard them tell others what a wonderful library we have and know they have invited others to join the group. We started out with about seven members in 1995 and are now at 18 members. They note how busy we are and tell others creating word-of-mouth advocacy on the importance of the library to our community. A good book group needs to have members of all ages representing the adult population. This creates a more interesting discussion with varying opinions and viewpoints. Staff has heard members state this is something they really like about being a part of this group because they are so open minded. We recently read and discussed Cutting for Stone which was a difficult read for some. The setting was Ethiopia giving members insight into a culture none of us had ever had. Most members try to read the book chosen and even show up for the discussion even if they didn’t particularly enjoy a selection. The One Book One Nebraska selection is always selected in the spring. Food is a must and should be based on the needs of the attendees also. When “Restoring the Burnt Child” by William Kloefkorn was the 2008 One Book One Nebraska selection, the library secured a grant from the Nebraska Humanities Council to have him visit on a Saturday. We had people attend from other counties and over 150 miles away. It was fantastic! When he later gave a talk in Omaha, we got an e-mail from a former resident of Bassett telling us that he mentioned his visit here and told the audience how nice a library Rock County has—more advocacy. Evelyn Ost, Director, Rock County Public Library
"I have to say that I think my reading group has made me a more adventurous reader. I've always been a huge reader, with several books on my bedside table all the time. But since I joined my beloved reading group, I'm reading things I never would have picked for myself. Because we take turns choosing the book and hosting the group, we share a bit of ourselves with each other each month."  — M, Lincoln
My book group continues to grow in importance to me. While I understand belonging to a book group is about reading out of your personal comfort zone and interest, it’s also become an opportunity for me to learn how to accommodate, host, and grow a group of people who meet regularly to socialize purely over the topic of a book. How to guide and foster that conversation is something of a craft I think – sometimes it needs tending and sometimes the dialog takes care of itself. The craft is knowing the difference. There can be vulnerable moments in conversation where trust and confidentiality are very important. Next month, we will celebrate a major milestone with champagne and we’ll talk about memorable reads since our group was created. L, Lincoln

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