I'm thrilled to have this guest post from Karen Dulak. Karen works in education and is a contributing columnist for the Winona Daily News. She shares a home in Minnesota with a husband, a teenage son, a tweenage daughter, a big orange cat, and more books than she will ever be able to read. Karen spoke recently at her local bookstore, The Book Shelf about book clubs. Read on for the history of her first book club and some of the wonderful things they were inspired to do for their community through their love of reading.
It was Paul McCartney and John Lennon who penned the words, “I get by with a little help from my friends”. This is most certainly the case with my local independent bookstore and its relationship with the coffee house the store shares a space with. It also true when I talk about the first book club I belonged to.
The Book Shelf, located in Winona, Minnesota, is one of those eclectic book stores that sells all the recent best sellers and has their finger on the pulse of all the cool breakout books being published, but also sells locally hand stitched and hand died journals, photo cards by local artists, and tote bags made from recycled jeans. Once, independently located in a storefront by itself, Owner Chris Livingston took the huge leap to join forces with his favorite coffee house, The Blue Heron, to ensure his favorite coffee blend would endure along with his own business. The merger seems to have worked well. Both businesses were humming along when I was asked to speak at a recent book club appreciation night event.
I started my talk by showing the book that got me hooked. It’s a tiny pink title called Where is the Keeper, a story about zoo animals and their concern over the zookeeper who had gone missing. It’s a book from my early childhood days that I am certain, if you phoned my 75-year old mother and asked her to recite it, she would still know it word for word.
In fact, there’s a website put out by First Books that recently asked the question about books that hooked you. “What Book Got You Hooked?” invited readers everywhere to celebrate the power of unforgettable books from childhood by providing new books to the children who need them the most. For the last two years, First Book has asked people to share the memory of the books that made them readers, then help get more kids hooked by voting for the state to receive 50,000 new books from First Book. Check out First Book for more information. The state of Kentucky won the 50,000 books this year, but anticipate that they will hold the contest again next year and tell all your friends to participate! Your home state could win!
I linked my first book love to my most current read (I love this one too), and shared a quote from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? Put it at the top of your “Must Read” list and savor this book. Here’s the quote…
“That’s what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you onto another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It’s geometrically progressive—all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.”
With that intro about my love of books, I then began to talk about the first book club I belonged to. We were called The Women in the Hut. We were a book club that after years of being together we suddenly broke up. I was not able to put my finger on the exact reason or reasons why we fell apart. Dynamics changed, people moved on to other clubs, people joined without guidelines of how new members were brought in. Whatever the reason was, what I focused on in my talk at The Book Shelf was what we accomplished together through reading and discussing books.
Women in the Hut were a group of women who loved getting together and having fun. It was as simple as enjoying a candy cigarette and cocktails while we discussed The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or going to see a late night showing of Bridget Jones’ Diary in our pajamas. We were also a group of women who decided that we could give back to our community through reading.
The first book that inspired us to give back was Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. Our discussion focused on life, and death, and the teachers who inspired us along the way. After that talk, someone in the group suggested we make a donation to our local Hospice program from our book club. We sent $150.00 and a letter explaining who we were and the book we had read that inspired us to reach out to them in appreciation and hoped that they would enjoy lunch on us. We made a donation to our local Humane Society after reading The Saving Graces by Patricia Gaffney; a book with the character of Grace, a dog, who is saved after being hit by a car, and we donated money to our local public library after reading The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken, in honor of the librarian in the story.
So Lennon and McCartney were right, that we do get by with a little help from our friends. My book club helped community organizations through our love of reading and hanging out together. Just imagine if every book club in the world gave back in some small way through making donations or volunteering in schools, libraries, and literacy programs. Through the sheer enjoyment of reading, book lovers could change the world!