I Would Like to Thank the Book Clubs!

July 5, 2011 — Leave a comment

According to the American Library Association (ALA) wiki, ““A book discussion group is a forum where readers can come together and talk about books and the reading experience. These groups can be organized in a variety of ways. There are adult groups, student-led groups, mother-daughter groups, father-son groups, and parent-child groups, to name just a few.”

I belong to three book clubs. That is really not that surprising for an English teacher.  My book clubs represent the diversity noted by the ALA as each club is demographically different and each group approaches literature very differently. For about five years, I have facilitated discussions at the local library with senior citizens (myself included!) where the discussions are very casual and very personal. For the past 25 years, I have been a member of a book club filled with professional couples (all Jewish, I am the token Catholic) where each “host” is responsible for framing the discussion. These discussions are often political, theological or psychological in the approaches to the literature. Finally, my third book club is the youngest, only three years, and is made up of high school teachers. Two of these teachers are currently staying home with toddlers who seriously  limit discussion but absolutely contribute joy. For each of these clubs, I have bought books in order to participate, and I have bought A LOT (yes, meaning filling acreage) of books!

Apparently, so have many others. Whether books have been purchased for book clubs like mine or for Oprah, there are always plenty of trade books to be found in the secondary market (which sounds so much better than used book!)

There are certain titles which currently dominate these shelves- Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, Snow Flower and the Little Fan by Lisa See, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and the infamous A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. I can get entire class sets (30-100) copies of each of these texts. The question I consider is how will these texts be useful in the secondary classroom?

There are limitations on many of these texts (subject matter, language, etc) that force them to the upper grades (11th and 12th), and the length of some of these texts, while not too intimidating members of adult book clubs, can turn off students. When I do make copies available to students, I often make them a”choice” book against a less controversial classic such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Fortunately, I can also find many copies of that text as well.

In a paper titled “Should the American Canon be Discussed in a Public Library?“,David C. Kulpfer notes that,

The book club has a distinguished role in American culture. The clubs were formed in the 19th century, primarily as a way to help immigrants learn the language of their new country. Discussions provided assimilation for a new land; they gave increased literacy, socialization, an upward path of mobility, and a means for the immigrant to speak comfortably in a language that was new (Fabian et al. 46). Today, clubs serve other functions. Barbara Hoffert, Editor ofLibrary Journal, recognizes community health and library publicity as benefits of the reading associations: “It [The club] helps polish the library’s image and build bridges to the entire community” (37). Companionship and literary skills can stimulate. Reference Librarian Sarah Scobey writes, “Book clubs fill a real void in our electronic age. They bring people together in an intellectually stimulating yet non-threatening environment, a sort of College Literature 101 course without the burden of exams and papers” (9). (http://unllib.unl.edu/LPP/kupfer.htm)

I am hoping the book club discussions continue for many reasons. I enjoy the intellectually stimulating discussions noted by Sarah Scobey. I enjoy reading books that have been suggested by others. I enjoy being convinced that the book is not as bad as I previously thought or defending a book’s quality to others. I try to model these behaviors for my students in literature circles. Also, some of my students’ parents participate in book clubs (“…my mom read that book and said I would like it!”) , and I hope to bridge child reading to parent reading by offering texts that are familiar to a household.

There are numerous websites that rate popular book club titles. These include but are not limited to:

Book Movement

Good Reads

Lit Lovers

I look at these lists with anticipation. There are books listed there that will one day find their way into the secondary market. On the top of most lists is The Help by Katheryn Stockett.
I am looking forward to collecting a class set of that text!

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