By Jenny Neyman
There are readers and then there are readers.
The former pack a book for a plane ride. They skim through the paper in the morning. They end the day with a chapter or two before turning out the light.
For the latter, anytime their eyes and hands aren’t immediately occupied doing something else, they’re glued to a page. If they’re not reading, they’re thinking about what they’ve been reading, or planning what to read next. For those, the only thing worse than having nothing to read is having no one to share what they’re reading with.
That’s where book groups come in.
“You just get jived, you know, when you love to read,” said Rosie Reeder, who recently taught a class for Soldotna Community Schools on how to form a book group. “How you read a book and think, ‘Man, I’d love to talk to somebody about it.’
“I have friends who say, ‘How can you be so excited about a book?’ Hey, my name is Reeder. It’s kind of spelled out that I do these things.”
Reeder and the seven-woman book group she’s part of, literally called THE Book Group — “I feel a little like ‘Who’s On First?’ when I say it,” Reeder said — have been meeting “for about 18 years, or some ridiculous thing. I put it in my appointment book. I just hate to miss it.”
The group, Marge Hays, Sammy Crawford, Lois Pillifant, Susan Jelsma, Sherril Miller, Reeder and Peggy Toppenberg, meets every Wednesday morning for about an hour and has become so entrenched in members’ lives they’ve even managed the seemingly impossible — maintaining regular meetings in the summer, albeit on a reduced schedule of once a month.
And these aren’t even the best of friends, desperate for a reason to get together and chat. They’ve know each other for differing numbers of years and interact in various professional, community, philanthropic and social realms, but other than their book group, they probably wouldn’t all get together as regularly as they do, if at all. And that’s good, Reeder said.
“I’ve found that best friends are not necessarily the best way to do it because you tend to talk about some pretty heavy stuff and you’re too busy visiting,” she said.
Just discussing the books leaves plenty to talk about. In part, that’s due to the members’ personalities.
“We’re all kind of type A personalities. We try to give turns, but we’re not very good at it, to be perfectly honest,” Reeder said. “We try to honor each other and try and take turns.”
“The other thing is they have to be skilled at interruptions, obviously, because we all talk at the same time,” Pillifant said.
On April 1, the group was discussing “Exile,” by Richard North Patterson, a thriller set amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The group rarely reads novels, preferring nonfiction, especially biographies and the like.
“Our basic thing is we like to learn from what we read,” Reeder said.
The novel is set in real context, which fit the bill as informative. As usual, not everyone was in agreement over specific elements of the book, much less whether they enjoyed it overall.
But that’s half the fun of the discussion.
“I can’t believe that she even went in the first place. Oh lady, what were you thinking?” Hays said, reiterating her take on one of the book’s main characters.
“Oh, here you go again,” Reeder said.
“Some of the books we read, I would not read, and I wouldn’t have read a chapter of this unless you told me too,” Pillifant said.
“But that’s good for us. One thing I like about a book club is it sure expands what you read,” Hays said.
THE Book Group started with Hays and Reeder. The two got talking about their mutual love of books before a college class one day, and said they’d both always wanted to be in a book group.
“Marge said, ‘Well, you know we could start one.’ And I said, ‘Oh, that would be cool.’ Next week I came back she said, ‘Did you get some people?’ I said, ‘Oh, I thought you were kidding,’” Reeder said.
The group’s membership and numbers have fluctuated over the years, but they finally hit on a makeup that works for them: Seven women, amiable but not superclose friends, who love to read to learn and are willing to speak up about it.
“In book group it’s so cool relating something and somebody else will say, ‘I don’t remember it being that funny,’ or that whatever, and you realize it’s the way you read it, so that’s a whole new perspective,” Reeder said.
They occasionally get inquiries from people looking to join a group, but they don’t want more than seven. Yet filling their last opening took some time to find someone who fit well into the group, could meet at the scheduled time and was interested in mostly nonfiction books.
“It took forever for us to find someone and to make the decision, and they turned us down,” Hays said. “We were so sure everyone wanted to join our group. We had to have a moment of silence.”
With this group, the silence probably didn’t last long.
Writing rules for readingRosie Reeder, who has participated in a book group for about 18 years, has fielded questions over the years from kindred bibliophiles looking to join or start a book group.
It’s a great activity, but just like some books take effort to get into them, forming a cohesive, consistent group can take patience and persistence, she said.
Here are her tips for forming a book group:
Decide how many and what types of people you want. For numbers, three aren’t enough, because it’s hard to have a good discussion if someone doesn’t show, and 10 are too many because it’s hard for everyone to get a chance to talk. As for types of people, Reeder advises against close friends, because it’s too easy to talk about everything but the book. On the other hand, having people who are extremely dissimilar can cause more friction in discussions than some members may want to endure.
Decide logistics. Where will you meet? How often? What time? For how long? How long will you take to read a book? Are kids allowed? Will there be food, coffee, wine? If so, who’s bringing or preparing it?
Some things to keep in mind: Restaurants can be fun, but also expensive, and wait staff may not want a large, possibly loud group taking up a table for hours on end. But if it’s at a home, you don’t want hosting responsibilities to become disruptive or burdensome.
“If it’s at your house, well I have a family and a life and you’re going to come here every week for four hours on the weekend? I don’t think so,” Reeder said.
“We meet at my house, and I don’t have anything except coffee or tea water. If gets to be a drudge, you’re not going to do it for 18 years,” she said.
Decide what type of books you’ll read.
“The type of books you read, I think, has lot to do with it,” Reeder said. “If you want to meet five or six times and be done, it doesn’t matter. But you really need to have some commonalities, like we read almost all nonfiction and we read a book in about a month. You really need to pick something that holds your interest. We have a hard time with a romance book or a novel, because what are you going to talk about? ‘Did you think he did it?’ ‘Yeah, he did it.’ Then you’re done.”
Decide how you’ll get books. Buying even one book a month can get expensive, but local libraries don’t usually have enough copies for everyone in a book group to read the same thing at the same time.
“That’s huge. You could really spend a lot of money if you end up buying them, and you don’t want to steal them, so you have to figure something out,” Reeder said.
Reeder recommends combining a variety of approaches — including libraries, checking with River City Books about a discount for book groups, shopping at used book stores, shopping online, trading off books with other book groups, borrowing from friends and taking advantage of the Anchorage Public Library’s Book Club Bags, where the library will lend out and ship batches of about 10 books for six weeks at a time.