The Camaraderie of Avid Readers

By Bettina Cohen

I belong to a book group that meets every two months at the local branch library. We alternate between fiction and narrative nonfiction, mainly literary journalism or memoir. We don’t necessarily split it up evenly and read three of each per year. It seems to work that way, or perhaps novels hold a slight edge.

Janestown, by Amy Goldstein, left. Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, right. My present and future reads.

Our current selection for May is Janesville: An American Story, by Amy Goldstein. I’m reading it now.

We’ve selected Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens, for July. I’ve already bought my copy.

Warlight, by Michael Ondaaje, was our March selection, and I led January’s discussion of There There, by Tommy Orange.

Past nonfiction we read included Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance, and Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism from Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond, by E.J. Dionne, another discussion I led.

A sampling of books in the collection of a San Francisco home.

Though we meet only six times per year, we wind up discussing more than six books, because of our selection process. At each meeting, we spend several minutes talking about books we’ve read or would like to read.

This segment of the meeting is a lightning round, with members tossing suggestions into the ring and giving brief summaries of why we think it will be a good discussion book – not simply saying that we liked the book, since we wouldn’t recommend a book we didn’t like; but what about it gives us the idea that it will yield a fruitful discussion, with insights into life that we can mull over.

We take turns leading discussions when the group chooses a book we recommend. We usually choose a book that the member has already read.

Nonfiction we considered recently includes Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover, and The Library Book, by Susan Orlean.

I tossed a couple of novel suggestions into the hopper that I haven’t read yet – Little Boy, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s latest, and If Beale Street Could Talk, by James Baldwin, which was recently made into a movie.

The book club I’ve described is open to everyone, but all of the regular members are women, and lately all of the drop-ins have been women too. We see each other around the neighborhood, and the book club is one of those activities that lets us strengthen our sense of community.

Published by

Bettina Cohen

I've watched the little corner of San Francisco where I live get "built out" and the neighborhood grow by leaps and bounds to its current near-completion status. I am the author of hundreds of published articles, two nonfiction book chapters published as part of an authoritative guide series, and an unpublished novel. I recently resumed freelance writing as a community reporter for The Potrero View.

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