This book group’s name is a play on words related to literature and drinking (you’ll find they use another bit of wordplay further down). The LIT group meets in an upscale wine bar in downtown Barrington, Illinois. They like peppering their discussions with author interviews, YouTube videos, and even Skype calls with authors. One of LIT’s discussion leaders, Liz Kirchhoff, is the committee chair of the Notable Books Council. She cites the reading she does there as a major source of LIT’s book selections, but she also likes to utilize her group’s BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) suggestions.
Years of Operation: 4
Leaders: Liz Kirchhoff and Sam Adams-Lanham
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Tell us a little about your book group.
I’m an adult services librarian in Barrington, Illinois. Our community has dozens of book groups and one well-established literary club through the library. For several years, I’d been hearing about library clubs that met in bars and one day I was talking with my colleague Emily Kornak about the idea, and we decided to go for it. We have the perfect venue in The Annex, an upscale wine bar in downtown Barrington (pictured above). The library provides small appetizers and desserts, and members can enjoy a drink while they discuss the book of the month. From our very first meeting, LIT was a hit. We’ve always had a solid core of regulars as well as others who come and go as time permits. A typical discussion has between 15–20 people, although we once had almost 30. We discussed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl that month, and we debated so hotly (and loudly!) that I was afraid we were going to get kicked out of the bar!
How do your book discussions work?
Our club meets once a month. Community members who would like to join us sign up through the library, and we meet at the bar. Most of our book choices come from my reading on the American Library Association’s Notable Book Council, a librarian-created list that selects the best fiction, nonfiction, and poetry of the year. The selections are typically fairly literary, but we switch it up with BYOB (Bring Your Own Book) genre reads like The Martian, by Andy Weir, Stay, by Allie Larkin, and A Night to Surrender, by Tessa Dare. We frequently Skype with authors, and have spoken with Anthony Marra, Wiley Cash, Tessa Dare, and several others. Our discussions last about two hours. Sam and I start off by telling the group why we picked the book and then we begin discussion, using questions and author interviews that we found online. All our members are very engaged, and most bring notes or questions. When it adds to the discussion, we find video clips and other items of interest online. For example, we discussed Virginia Morell’s Animal Wise, which was about the science behind the emotions and intelligence of animals. We watched videos of Alex the parrot (known for a video clip where he tells his human friend that he loves her), archer fish shooting bugs from the air, mice navigating mazes, and more. We’re fortunate to have a big screen TV at our disposal, and we take advantage of it as much as possible.
How does your group make its reading selections?
Sam and I pull from our own reading as well as from group suggestions and current popular titles. As I said, the bulk of our choices come from my Notable Books reading—many of the books on that list make for really excellent book discussions. Once we’ve made our selection, we create discussion questions using author interviews and other resources on the website Litlovers. We often choose books before there are guides available, so interviews are extremely helpful in creating our own discussions.
Which book did your group collectively like the most this past year?
Our group loved Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. We also almost universally loved Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?, a graphic-novel memoir by Roz Chast. We have few graphic-novel readers in our group, so this was a bit of a surprise.
Which is the most divisive book your group has read?
Gone Girl is our standard here, as it probably is for many book groups. We were in wild disagreement over the ending. Was it fair? Did it fit the book? We read this years ago before it got truly hot, but we still come back to it frequently in conversation. More recently, we had a great discussion about the book Strings Attached, by Joanne Lipman and Melanie Kupchynsky, about a tough teacher and the difference he made in the lives of the kids he worked with. We were evenly divided on this one. Some of us thought that his methods, while challenging, were effective and necessary. Others thought that he was a bully. We had a great discussion even though most of us didn’t love it.
How do your group discussions work?
Sam and I lead discussions together. The leader that selected the book introduces it, then we open the floor for discussion.
What is your group most looking forward to reading this next year?
We’ll be reading Dead Wake, by Erik Larson soon, and we’re hearing lots of excitement for that. Several of our members have already read the wonderful Black River, by S. M. Hulse and have raved about it. We’re reading that one in late spring.
What is the best piece of advice you’d give a group that is just getting started?
Leaders should be flexible but ready to step in and make decisions or set framework when needed. It’s important for members to have some ownership or stake in your club, but sometimes they need guidance to do that.
Are you looking for new members?
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