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Let's Talk Books

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12.01.04

The book discussion phenomenon is not a new thing.

Literature circles, literary societies, book clubs, reading groups—whatever they are called, they have been around in scattered pockets since at least the early 19th century. Then in 1878, the  Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, founded in Rochester, New York, began as a Methodist program to distribute books and promote education among rural readers. Members read together in small hometown groups through the winter, then met in the summer at headquarters for graduation sessions. Chautauqua spread nationwide, reaching many small communities without libraries, and often inspired their development. It is the oldest continuous book club in America; the 2012 reading list includes selections by Billy Collins, Geraldine Brooks, Tony Horwitz, and Chad Harbach.

Just after World War II, the Great Books program, initiated by Columbia University and the University of Chicago, introduced college students to the great thinkers of Western culture (sometimes referred to as “Dead White Males”). This program opened to the general public and at one time drew 50,000 participants. Today, 850 groups continue to discuss these classic works and an expanded list that now includes women and Hispanic writers.

In recent years, Oprah Winfrey has given book discussion groups an entirely new cachet with her televised discussions, featuring authors, audience members, and sometimes on site tours. Oprah’s imprimatur sold hundreds of thousands of copies of her selections, making Toni Morrison far more successful commercially than her Nobel Prize for Literature had done.

These activities are forums where people come together to talk about books and the reading experience.

 

How do they work?

Discussion groups can work in a variety of ways. They meet in libraries, homes, churches, coffee shops, and restaurants. They may be organized to focus on a single type of writing, history or mystery, for instance, or they may cover the waterfront of books encompassing nonfiction, fiction, books for children, young adults, and adults. Participants usually will read the same book, but sometimes they will discuss the works of a writer and each will choose a different title by that author. Sometimes, they may read an open choice of titles on a particular subject.

 

What is the appeal?

Participants agree that the most enjoyable part of a book discussion group is hearing different viewpoints and reactions to a book. They also enjoy meeting new people and learning about them through the discussion. People frequently comment that these groups expose them to books they would not read, or even know about, on their own, and that their horizons are enlarged and enriched thereby. A discussion may also bring out a point that an individual reader may have missed in his reading.

Cookies add to the charm, of course. And laughter, of which there may be an abundance. And the comfortable, welcoming environment talking with others who have taken the same literary journey can be a very pleasant experience.

Sometimes the most interesting discussions occur when there is disagreement about a book’s appeal, or when participants do not like a particular book. Dissecting the reasons for this can actively engage people and result in a satisfying session that can redeem the experience of reading a book that is somehow lacking.

 

How to participate?

TCPL offers two book discussion groups which welcome anyone who would like to participate. The Richlands group meets on the second Monday at 4:30, and the Tazewell group meets on the second Wednesday at noon. January’s selections are The Tall Woman by Wilma Dykeman and Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. Details of books and schedule changes are available on our website. Come take part in a venerable tradition, enjoy good company, and expand your horizons this year.

 

For more information, call 988-2541 or visit www.tcplweb.org.

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