Meet the Thomas Ford Memorial Library Book Group—they call themselves the “Book Discussion Group” so they can save time and get right to discussing. This group enjoys mainly literary fiction and nonfiction. Their librarian leader, Nancy Long, shares a number of great resources for choosing books in the Q&A below.
Years of Operation: 17 years and counting
Leader: Nancy Long
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Tell us a little about your book group.
Ours is a library-sponsored group (Thomas Ford Memorial Library in Western Springs, Illinois). We have been meeting since 1998. Anyone may attend, so the composition of the group changes over time. But it is overwhelmingly women, and there are many regulars who have been attending for several years. (Men are welcome, but they usually come only once.) Regulars range in age from late 30s to 80s.
This group prefers literary fiction and nonfiction. What makes it different from most library groups (I think) is that I encourage members to choose books and lead the discussions about half the time. In general, they do an excellent job and find great books that did not turn up in my search. I collect information on each book and author and put it in a binder which I make available at the reference desk in our library. I order multiple copies of the book through interlibrary loan for attendees to pick up the month before. Our discussions are very casual, with me (or another leader) asking new questions when the discussion winds down.
When, where, and how often do you meet?
We meet on the first Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m., in the library. We meet seven months out of the year (October to May, excluding January).
How does your group make its reading selections?
As the librarian in charge, I choose three or four books of the seven each year. I start with the annual Booklist Editors’ Choice list, the New York Times 100 Notable Books list, and ALA’s Notable Books list, as well as the major prizes. If I’m having trouble deciding, sometimes I check the NPR best books and Amazon best books of the year. I check my short list of books against reader ratings on Amazon to get an idea of how well people liked them.
If one of the members is choosing the book, they usually run them by me first, and I check for library availability and also to see if it fits in well with the others we are reading that year.
Which book did your group collectively like the most this past year?
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.
Which is the most divisive book your group has read?
Nothing has ever come to fisticuffs, but they were very split over The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. Many loved the mental challenge of figuring out the characters and hints and clues. Others just found the whole thing very confusing.
How do your group discussions work?
We have one different leader each month (see above) who provides the author’s bio and asks questions, but it is very informal.
What is your group most looking forward to reading this next year?
We are discussing All the Light We Cannot See next week. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m excited to finally be reading this.
What is the best piece of advice you’d give a group that is just getting started?
Ask at your local library for help choosing books and finding author info and discussion questions. They can show you lots of resources.
Are you looking for new members? If so, leave your contact info for those interested.
New members are always welcome at our library. Those interested may contact me at email@example.com.
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