YAKIMA, Washington. — Oprah can take some credit for the widespread appeal, but the book club components predate it by centuries.
Socrates used a similar method for education, shaping minds in Athens by asking students questions to foster discussion.
Ben Franklin’s Junto Literary Society met weekly for political and moral debate. About 100 years later, Margaret Fuller did something similar with philosophical seminars for women in her bookstore.
Then there was Harry Sherman’s first offering in 1926 of the Book-of-the-Month Club – regularly offering readers the best titles of all genres – which found competition a year later when the Literary Guild was created.
Then came the media maven whose talk show got people reading and all but guaranteed authorship superstar status. Oprah’s Book Club has selected one title per month to discuss on its popular television show.
The formula was adaptable. New groups began to appear across the country. And trending remains a popular pastime. In the Yakima Valley, private and public book groups help forge friendships around a common interest: the love of books.
Double the fun
Ellensburg’s Debby DeSoer belongs to two book clubs. “The Happy Bookers” meets the second Monday of each month upstairs at Pearl Street Books. The other meets regularly every other Wednesday.
“He doesn’t really have a name,” she explained. “Like many others, they come together, so we just call it ‘The Second Wednesday’.”
Born and raised in Ellensburg, DeSoer spent about 30 years away before returning 13 years ago to serve as director of the Ellensburg Public Library. Coming back was wonderful – she remembered the story time from her childhood in the basement of the library – but the role of leader rarely left her with extra free time.
“When I worked in libraries, I never felt like I had time to read,” she said, the laughs noting the irony.
Happily retired since 2016, DeSoer is making up for lost time.
“It’s a chance to get together and talk about things other than your day-to-day life,” DeSoer said of book clubs. “And reading really gives you a chance to broaden your horizons and open you up to new thoughts.”
Book clubs are two of more than 20 monthly meetings in Kittitas County, she said. On the third Monday of every April, all the book clubs—and anyone who wants to talk about books—get together for tea in Ellensburg, complete with china cups, teapots, and decorated tables.
About 50 people showed up for the popular event sponsored by the Friends of the Library. An author is usually invited to speak and people share what their clubs have read.
DeSoer speaks fondly of the gathering, but it’s his affiliation with the two monthly talks that really marks his year.
“I didn’t think I would have anything to say,” she said. But the titles take it to a different level.
“They really make you read things you wouldn’t read otherwise – taking you in different directions – and I wouldn’t have done that myself.”
She said club structures also made her read for more than personal enjoyment.
“I read thoughts that I can bring to the book club and open up a larger discussion,” she said.
A Capitol club
Charlie Robin, executive director of the Capitol Theater in Yakima, has a way of preparing an audience for the subjects they’ll see on stage: reading. It publishes a recommended playlist for concerts and performances related to Yakima Valley Libraries. The list of titles is maintained on the library’s website and books can be read before or after shows.
“We created it this year to start getting people … to learn more about a topic, regardless of what the specific show is about,” he said.
An example is last season’s “Come From Away”. The musical tells the story of what happened when 38 planes were ordered to land unexpectedly in Canada following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
“People never thought about Newfoundland — now they want to know,” he said. “It’s very common. People want to know more. »
Some of the recommended books to go with this show are “Newfoundland” by Dennis Minty, “Channel of Peace” by Kevin Tuerff, “Flight 93” by Tom McMillan, and “Infidel” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
Engage, complete, sympathize
Last year, Eric Patrick and Mark Boggess had an idea.
“We had once been pretty avid readers,” Patrick said, “and we were both equally frustrated that we had slowed down our reading.”
The business of life – and smartphones – kept friends from sharing the passion they shared, so they created the “Mark & Eric Book Club”.
“We committed to reading six books each,” Patrick said. “And at the end, we would treat ourselves to cocktails as a reward.”
With no set timeframe, Patrick’s list of titles included authors like Phillip Margolin and David Baldacci. Boggess – who beat Patrick by completing at least three more titles – enjoyed popular authors like John Grisham and James Patterson.
“It’s just the two of us, and we’ve already started 2019,” Patrick said. “We can read all we want, and we don’t report it — just an incentive to get both of us proofread — and that’s motivated us and held us accountable.”
Empowering Girls, Inspiring Leaders
Twice a month, eight middle school girls get together for the Girls Circle book club at Central Lutheran Church. The club is organized by the Junior League of Yakima, a community service organization, to encourage the girls who will soon lead the Yakima Valley into the future.
Now in its second year, the program allows those enrolled in the “Round the Corner” after-school program to participate in the discussion of three books.
Each year, the selections consist of a graphic novel, a fiction title and a non-fiction title.
Ahead, they read “Path to the Stars,” a story by a Latina working to become a rocket scientist for NASA, said Tiffany Pitra, chair of the book club committee.
“We just try to provide a safe place for girls to express themselves and learn,” she said.
In loose affiliation with the book club, 15 other Washington Middle School girls read the same books; The Junior League has donated the books and discussion questions, and these meetings are led by volunteer teachers.
Now in her fifth year of active Junior League membership, Pitra is thrilled to be the Book Reading and Selection Officer, and to chair the meetings.
“They do fun activities and projects and discuss books?? it’s just a good place to hang out and be safe,” she said.
The West Valley Library has two book discussion groups: one meets on the third Wednesday of each month and the other the following Sunday.
“The Wednesday group reads the book one month, then the Sunday group gets it the next month,” said Heather Van Tassell, the site’s chief librarian.
Although there are several copies of the book in kits, the total available is still limited.
At 6:30 p.m. on February 20, the discussion will be on “The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane” by Lisa See.
The Wednesday group read “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI” by David Grann last month, so Sunday attendees will discuss the title at 2 p.m. on February 24.
“It’s so timely – with all the native women gone,” Van Tassell said of Grann’s best-selling detective story.
And that’s the intention.
“We try to choose books that are going to generate discussion and make people think,” she said. “I think that’s the best thing about the book group. It makes people read something they wouldn’t normally read and think about things in a different way.
Van Tassell said the groups — started by former librarian Cynthia Garrick — average up to a dozen people each, and Wednesday nights are really starting to grow.
Book discussion groups also take place at the Naches and Selah Community Libraries. Visit www.yvl.org for information on library locations, hours of operation, and contact information for upcoming titles and meetings.
Reading and wine
Will you have wine with your reading? How about the sardonic wit of Brad Baldwin?
The owner of Stems hosts a book club from 6-7 p.m. on the last Monday of every month. For a $5 tasting fee, 10-15 people gather at 399 E. Yakima Ave. And when Baldwin says “all are welcome”, he really means it.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” is slated for February 25.