A Month of Book Clubs

Libraries tap readers’ thirst for reading books of assorted genres.

by Stephanie Farrell
The Cozy Mystery Book Club meets monthly at the Vineland Public Library.

Reading a book, an activity that takes hours, and following it up with thoughtful dialogue, seems a throwback in an age of 15-second TikTok videos and rash responses. Yet many locals find that reading a book is cherished time. Just as readers connect to a novel by characters in the story, book clubbers link to the community through discussion.

“Reading stuff I’d never choose for myself is a pro,” says Eileen Fischer about her book club, which has 10 members. “I’d have to dig deep to find a con because I love it so much.”

The club has been together for 24 years. “We’re like family with the camaraderie and we all love each other so much. That’s my outlet, that’s my connection,” she adds. “It’s not family time, not kid time, just me. I look forward to it every month, whether I enjoy the book or not.”

“I read a lot, sometimes three to four books a month. I’m literally never without a book,” says Fischer. “If I have to wait 20 minutes somewhere? No problem, I have a book. Because of book club, I read differently.”

When she reads other books, she wonders if the book is book club worthy. “Does it warrant a conversation? Our group goes deeper; we delve. I always read with that in the back of my mind.”

The book club rotates homes, and the hostess serves food, often inspired by the book. Fischer hosted A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, which is about an Indian American family. “I don’t like Indian food, but I did make mango lassis because they are mentioned so often in the book.”

The best books? “Lincoln Highway (by Amor Towles) is top of my list. I read all three of his. I really liked those books. Deacon King Kong (by James McBride) was so out of our norm; we all enjoyed it so much. Fischer is not a fan of “the old stuff,” classics like Brontë’s Villette which the club read this summer. “She’s not my cup of tea,” she says.

Recently club members headed to the movies to see A Man Called Otto, a film adaptation of Frederik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, which they had read. “Usually, a movie doesn’t live up to the book, but it was so good,” Fischer says. “All of us liked it.”

Suzy Merighi has been a member of another local book club for more than 20 years. “I have really loved it,” she says. “It gets me to read things I wouldn’t pick up on my own. I’m grateful for that.”

She also appreciates that it disciplines her to finish the book, often a crunch in the last week so that it is fresh in her mind for discussion. “It’s a wonderful group of women to be a part of. We have three retired teachers, a veterinary pathologist, and an executive director of a national non-profit,” notes Merighi, a retired librarian.

They used to meet in person, rotating homes, enjoying dessert after the discussion. “COVID changed that,” she says. “We went to Zoom meetings.” They have not returned regularly to in-person yet, finding it convenient to not have to drive at night.

Her club has an annual book selection meeting, usually in January, and each member suggests several books for consideration. Merighi says there are three criteria: “Number one, you have to have read it yourself; Number two, you have to feel it’d be a good book for discussion; and Number three, it has to be available in paperback.”

They are getting together soon to decide this year’s line-up. “I’ve become the de facto organizer,” she says. For the upcoming book, Merighi e-mails links to reading group guides, book reviews, interviews with the author, and usually a Wikipedia article on the topic, time period, or an issue in the book. “I usually have 15 to 20 links.”

Eileen Fischer’s book club takes food seriously, too. This was the spread for a late summer gathering.

One of the recent books they enjoyed was American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, about a Mexican mother and son who flee to America to escape a drug cartel. “Social issues are good to discuss. We find the contemporary fiction tends to offer the most things to discuss, with relationships, twists and turns, anything about someone or a group of people overcoming obstacles,” she explains. “It is good to have a book that not everyone agrees on. We loved Where the Crawdads Sing (by Delia Owens), A Gentleman in Moscow (by Amor Towles) and Winterdance by Gary Paulsen, which is about running the Iditarod.”

A great way to jump into a book club is to join one of the four offered at the Vineland Public Library (VPL). The VPL lends out copies of the book to its library cardholders or those who hold Millville or Bridgeton cards. Library Associate Caroline Fricke says that for more than 10 years, the Afternoon Adult Book Club, which has 10 to 15 members, has been meeting monthly on a Wednesday afternoon. The books are chosen by the members from a suggested list from the adult services librarian. The club, whose members run their own meeting with a list of discussion questions from the librarian, enjoys reading novels about diverse cultures.

On a recent rainy afternoon, they discussed Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. There is banter back and forth: “You’re probably not going to agree with me, but…” says one woman; that gets a chuckle from the group. “We agree to disagree,” another good-naturedly responds, then provides his opinion.

The Evening Adult Book Club, which is just starting, is similar but is for members who are unavailable in the afternoon. It has its own list of books so readers may attend both.

The Cozy Mystery Club, which also has 10 to 15 members, meets every other month. It’s “cozy, as in not as gory. It is light on violence and sexual content, like Nancy Drew for adults,” says Fricke. “Melinda, the staff member who runs it, will make dessert that coincides with the book. Fortunately, or unfortunately for our waistlines, we usually have extra in the breakroom.” This club also has two events this year with author visits.

The fourth option is Chapter One, which started last year, and is also held in the evenings. Fricke says they read “the newer, popular titles, those showing up on social media.”

The book clubs give people a place to read other genres, gather, and talk. She says the readers often then explore the library’s stacks for other books by the same author.

In Millville, the regular adult book club, which generally has about 10 attendees, discusses fiction, non-fiction, and memoir. Library Director Courtenay Reece, says, “I try to choose books that have really good talking points.” Reece says their recent discussion of In Stroke’s Shadow (by Kyle Ruffin) was especially poignant, as every member had meaningful contributions about the caregiver’s experience. She leads the group, providing notes on the characters, author biography, and discussion questions.

Through a grant from the Cumberland County Cultural and Heritage Commission, Reece is adding a new club, Reading Our Way through New Jersey. Readers may keep the books and meet the author. That sounds like a perfect trifecta—connecting readers to the book, to the author, and to a book club community.

 

This Month in Book Clubs

Vineland Public Library Book Clubs
Held in Community Event Room
1058 E. Landis Avenue, Vineland
To register or obtain a copy, call 856-794-4244, ext. 4243.

  • Adult Evening Book Club
    American Spy by Lauren Wilkinson
    Monday, February 6, 6-7 p.m.
  • Chapter 1 Book Club
    The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
    Tuesday, February 7, 6-7 p.m.
  • Cozy Mystery Book Club
    Deadly Valentine by Carolyn Hart
    Monday, February 13, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
  • Adult Afternoon Book Club
    The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
    Wednesday, February 22, 2–3 p.m.

Millville Public Library Book Clubs
Held in Community Room
210 Buck Street, Millville
856-825-7087 to register / obtain a copy

  • Book Club
    Thursday, February 9, 6:30 p.m.
    High Five by Janet Evanovich
  • Reading Our Way Through New Jersey Book Club with Author Talk
    Thursday, March 2, 6:30 p.m.
    Levels of Truth with Reece Brett

Cumberland County Library Club
Held in Downstairs Meeting Room
800 E. Commerce Street , #2, Bridgeton

  • Books & Brew Club: Join for coffee and to talk about any book
    February 1 and March 1, 6:30-7:30 p.m.
    Registration required; 856-453-2210, ext. 26103

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