Reading is a solitary pursuit. But for many local book lovers, being part of a reading group or book club enhances the reading experience by creating a social component, expanding individual horizons and adding to members’ burgeoning bookshelves.
For over a decade, Audrey Estebo, an attorney and St. Anthony Park resident, has enjoyed her reading group’s social aspect as much as the books.
“We started in 1997,” she said. “There are about 15 members, all women, generally over 40.”
Each month they meet in members’ homes, where one person hosts and another reports on that month’s book. In December, members do a book exchange at a restaurant or in someone’s home and pick books for the upcoming year, but those selections are subject to change.
“As the year progresses, we change the list if someone reads the book she picked and decides it isn’t very good,” Estebo said. “We’re pretty eclectic and read fiction and nonfiction. We have a Web site (www.sapbookclub.org) that lists books we’ve read from 2002 to the present. What we don’t have is a name.”
Estebo attributes the group’s longevity to the right balance between socializing and discussion.
“Sometimes, you hear of book groups getting into disagreements, but that doesn’t happen here,” she said. “We’ve had one or two people leave because of changes in their lives, but otherwise we’ve been a stable group.”
Estebo said that members can feel free to come even if they haven’t read the book. “Nobody gets upset because we understand that schedules can get busy,” she added.
Estebo said that since most members live in the neighborhood, they have connections beyond the book club. Because they’re a large group, they’re not looking to add new members at this time.
The group sometimes invites an author to attend their discussion. “We had Faith Sullivan visit, and that was a lot of fun,” Estebo said.
Another book club in St. Anthony Park is the Sunday Afternoon Book Group, which meets at Micawber’s Bookstore the last Sunday of the month at 2:30 p.m. Longtime member Wanda Lorentzen said, “We started meeting in 2006 and have a core of 6-8, mostly women.”
Their biggest crowd was when author Kao Kalia Yang came to talk about her book, “The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir.”
The Sunday Afternoon Book Group reads some things that aren’t especially well-known, such as China Mieville’s “Perdido Street Station,” which is part science fiction, part fantasy.
“It’s 630 pages and there were only three of us there to discuss it,” Lorentzen said. She admitted that she normally would not have read this type of book but was up to the challenge.
Lorentzen said that when they started, the person who founded the group picked the books and led the discussion.
“But now we bring in suggestions, and whoever is going to lead the discussion that month picks the book they want,” she said. “As a result, we end up with a wide variety of books.”
Lorentzen said that their group welcomes new members.
“We talk about the writing and the book’s theme, but we don’t try to be hoity-toity,” she said.
Lorentzen said she reads close to a hundred books a year, which she would do even without a book group. “But this has broadened my horizons tremendously,” she said.
Another book club that accepts new members meets at 7 p.m. the first Wednesday of the month at St. Anthony Park Library. Library employee Carla Foley started the group in 2006.
“I’d been thinking about starting a book club for a while,” she said. “I didn’t do anything about it until a woman who was new to the neighborhood came to the library. She was looking for a book club and that was the impetus for me to start one.”
Foley said a typical turnout is 8-10 people. She chooses the books but is open to suggestion, as long as the library has at least 10 copies so people don’t have to buy the book if they don’t want to.
“I try to mix it up,” she said, “but it tends to be more fiction and memoirs. Right now, we’re reading ‘Song Yet Sung,’ by James McBride.”
Foley said that group members “like to read books that they might not pick themselves, and that’s part of the reason why I do the book group.”
Foley said anyone who is interested in joining their group can just show up at the library. They’ll be reading Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge” in January.
“I let people check the book out until the next meeting, but after that fines apply,” she said. For more information, call 642-0411 or visit www.sppl.org/reading/stanthony-bookclub.html.