May 25, 2022

Local Book Clubs Share Their Favorite Recent Picks – Hometown Focus

Who likes to read? These people do! To celebrate readers across the range, we reached out to book clubs around the world to compile their favorite books. May readers around the world benefit from their discussion.

Friends of Ely Public Library Book Club

This book club is made up of members of the Friends of the Library, said Cheryl Martinetto of Ely. The group formed in 2007 and usually meet once a month at the library to discuss their selection – no food, no wine, just a conversation about books. The club includes a mix of men and women, Martinetto said, and each brings a valuable perspective. One member was a librarian at the local college, and another keeps track of every book he reads, Martinetto said, so often the general discussion of books after the official book club discussion is equally interesting.

To mark the library’s centenary this year, the book club began reading through the decades – one book from each decade the library was open. A first selection was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, first published in 1934. Other well-received books have included The Moonflower Slayers by David Grann, a true story chronicling a series of murders of wealthy Osage in Osage County, Oaklahoma in the 1920s, after large deposits of oil were discovered beneath tribal lands; little big things by Jodi Picoult and A fall of worries by Susan Meisner.

Side Lake Book Club

The club has been meeting for about 15 years, said book club member Carol Staniger. She remembers not knowing anyone else when they first met. So many years later, the club has grown to around 28 members, which can be a little tight when everyone is trying to congregate in someone’s living room. The group does not schedule meetings during the summer, but meets again in the fall to select books of the year, Staniger. Some choose fiction books, popular books or mysteries, and others choose books the rest of the club has never heard of, Staniger said.

One of their recent favorites was the four winds by Kristin Hannah, a new book that explores a woman’s choices during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The book sparked a great discussion, Staniger said; several other book clubs in the area have also said they like this selection. The Side Lake Book Club also enjoyed reading The book thief by Markus Zusak and educated by Tara Westover.

Laurentian Readers

Originally organized as a chapter of Oprah’s Book Club, the Laurentian Readers have been meeting to discuss books for about 20 years, said member Jane Gilness. The group is made up of avid readers, she says, and whether they like a particular book or not, they love having the discussion. They meet once a month to take recommendations and select books, usually a combination of fiction and non-fiction.

Gilness said her personal test of a book’s success is how long the memory of that book remains – and she cited historical fiction A gentleman in Moscow of Amor Towles, the story of Count Alexander Rostov, who is sentenced to house arrest for life in a grand hotel opposite the Kremlin in Moscow.

Other club favorites were The Island of the Women of the Sea by Lisa See, another historical novel about the all-female diving collective of a Korean village, and cry to the sky by Anne Rice, yet another historical fiction about the sometimes dark world of 18th century Italian opera. They also loved The day the world came to town, a nonfiction story about a small town in Nova Scotia that was suddenly inundated with world travelers after all planes were grounded following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The story is a beautiful story of people’s sense of humanity and community, Gilness said.

A collection of Mesabi East Schools employees have come together over the past two decades to look at more than 200 books, said member Sandy Nemanic. The dozen members meet monthly and have managed to come together on Zoom during the pandemic.

Nemanic thanked local libraries for helping the club find enough copies of many of the books they read, including the recent selection of Count paths by Joyce Maynard, about how members of a fractured family go through the years. It sparked a discussion about forgiveness, betrayal and parenting, Nemanic said. Over the years, the group has also read many selections from Minnesota authors, including William Kent Krueger and Lorna Landvik.

The Nameless Book Club

Hoyt Lakes’ Karen Hunt is a member of the Page Turners, and she also belongs to another group of Iron Range friends and readers who have been discussing books for about seven years. Although they don’t have an official name, the group meets during the warmer months and then keeps in touch via email during the winter. Sometimes they meet at each other’s homes, sometimes at restaurants, but they always have an in-depth discussion, Hunt said.

This summer, the group read This tender land by William Kent Krueger, the story of four young children who escape a desperate situation and embark on an epic canoe trip. Hunt was captivated by the true story The children’s blizzard by David Laskin, about an 1888 blizzard that killed hundreds of pioneers across the Midwest. Other highlighted books include Whistle Stop Wonder Boy by Fannie Flagg and Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance.

Another unnamed book club

After many years and 243 books, the book club to which former English teacher Margaret Schley belongs has settled into a routine. Stay away from expensive books that can be hard to find enough copies of; choose shorter books if possible; and hope for a pause in the pandemic. The six friends who have stayed at the club all these years are taking some time off due to COVID, but Schley said they are looking forward to getting together around a table again.

Some recent favorites include The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, a fun story about a socially awkward genetics professor who embarks on a scheme to find the perfect woman. They also appreciated While justice sleeps, a murder mystery by Stacey Abrams. Sometimes it takes members a few months to go through a book, like Exodus by Leon Uris, and sometimes they decide to reread a selection after discussing it, as with A Confederation of dunces by John Kennedy Toole.

Big Sturgeon Lake Book Club

Lucy Radovich has been with the club for at least 15 years. As a widow, she said she appreciates having a social outlet as well as having a purpose during the long winter months. The book club, which has around 24 members, meets every September to select the books of the year. They don’t meet during the summer when lots of people have been to the lake, although some members still read and connect via email.

The most recent book the club read was The evanescent half by Brit Bennet, a story of twin sisters growing up in different racial homes. The Book of Lost Names by Kristen Harmel was another good recent pick, and Radovich said his all-time favorite pick was Uninterrupted by Laura Hillenbrand. It was inspired by the story of survival at sea by Louis Zamperini after a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean during World War II.

The KAXE book club

Grand Rapids-based community radio station KAXE (Northern Community Radio) selects books two or three times a year, with each member able to nominate a book they want to read, said KAXE coordinator and staffer Penny Holcomb. Although the group had a hard time choosing their favorite recent selections, they limited themselves to these selections: The Women of Troublesome Creek Book by Kim Michele Richardson on Early Library Services and the Blue People of Kentucky; Back home by Yaa Gyasi on three generations of an African immigrant family and how history binds them together in ways they don’t know; and The women of the land of copper by Mary Doria Russell, a historical novel about mining, the early history of labor unions, and the role of women in these matters. Holcomb said the best group chats are about stories that expose club members to something they don’t know, help them learn something new, and help people understand a different point of view.