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Book clubs, online and traditional, gaining popularity

In a fictional Minnesota neighborhood in the 1960s, five women desperate to get out of the house and have an adult conversation formed the book club “Angry Housewives Eating Bon-Bons,” also the title of a book by Lorna Landvik.  In their book group, which met once a month for over 30 years, these women became close friends. They read books, enjoyed wine and good food, worried over their kids, got older and endured many of life’s challenges together.

Landvik’s book is a popular choice for area book clubs. Many book club members, like the Angry Housewives, are looking for new friendships and a chance to bond with others who love to read and learn something new and have some fun without a lot of expense.

Book clubs have become more popular, and there are plenty of options for the reader today. One can join an online book club discussion or join a group that meets in a community setting, such as a library or church, or form a book club of his or her own. Libraries are stocking book club kits for the growing number of book groups. The kits typically contain about 10 books, including a large print book and an audio book and a reading guide with discussion questions. The kits can be checked out for six weeks instead of the usual three weeks.

At the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud, there are dozens of book club kits available for checkout, including well-known titles such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Grapes of Wrath, Fahrenheit 451, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Kite Runner, Life of Pi, The Help, Olive Kitteridge, The Great Gatsby, and Little Women. The kits can be reserved and picked up at any of the branches. There are juvenile book club kits as well. The St. Cloud library and its branch libraries also sponsor monthly book clubs for interested readers.

Ellen Dale and her book group have been meeting monthly since 2001. The group started with about a dozen members, who met one another when their children were in elementary school at Zachary Lane in Plymouth.  “We were brought together by motherhood,” said Ellen Griffin, another member of the book club.

The women have become close over the years. “We have been through thick and thin together in the past 10 years,” said Dale. “We have been through two divorces, breast cancer and other health problems and a very serious injury to a college-age son of one member. We have both laughed together and cried together.” The group meets once a month at the home of one of its members. “Everyone gets a turn to host and choose a book for the group to read,” said Dale, who added, “One of the hardest things for me is to decide what food to serve.”

Some women in the book club are avid readers while others may not finish reading the book before they meet, but there is always good discussion during their afternoon sessions. “There are plenty of other things to talk about,” said Dale. “Some days we barely spend any time talking about the book.” Book club can become like a therapy group, especially when discussions trail off to serious topics like cancer or caring for an elderly parent.

Recently, group members drove to downtown Minneapolis to Birchbark Books, a small, independent bookstore owned by Louise Erdrich, the award-winning author of many novels, including The Plague of Doves and Love Medicine. Everyone was able to purchase the next month’s book pick, The Round House, written by Erdrich, who lives in Minnesota.

Dale said her book club liked The Round House, a best seller about a 13-year-old Ojibwe boy growing up on a reservation in North Dakota.  It’s unusual for everyone to love a book, but some of her group’s favorites are The Help, The Rice Mother, The Kite Runner and The Hunger Games.  Ellen Griffin liked A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. “It was a touching, tender story that spoke to my heart,” Griffin said. “We read it when my daughter was approaching adolescence, and I really connected to the family struggles they were experiencing.” The narrator was similar in age to her daughter at that time. Griffin also liked Peace Like A River by Leif Enger. “This book forced me to look at my own faith,” said Griffin, “and accept things that I didn’t always have an answer to.” Dale liked the plot twists in Gone Girl  by Gillian Flynn and found it difficult to put the book down once she started reading.

Some members have dropped out of the book club in the past few years. “But a couple of women who had not been coming came back again,” Dale said. That’s the beauty of it. When life intervenes and somebody needs a break, it’s okay. They can always come back.

The Sherburne History Center formed its book club last spring. The monthly meetings are held the first Thursday of each month at the History Center in Becker. The book club reads both nonfiction and historical fiction and is open to all interested readers. The group chooses Minnesota authors and books of Minnesota historical interest.  Executive Director Mike Brubaker sits in on the book club meetings. “We have a good group of about 12 regular members,” he said, “and they have great input. They also bring in titles of books they’re interested in reading which is helpful in developing a reading list.” He and the program coordinator consider all suggestions and then put together a reading list for the group. The book club has invited the authors to their meetings on occasion for a book signing and a “mix and mingle. ”

“I have enjoyed author Pam Leonard,” Brubaker said. “She has written a couple of mystery novels and the story is based in the Twin Cities and also in northern Minnesota.” Leonard has written Death’s Imperfect Witness, Where Echoes Die and Shadowland. The History Center Book Club is reading and will discuss The Lynchings in Duluth by Michael Fedo at their February meeting.  The books are available for purchase at the History Center’s gift shop, located at 10775 27th Ave S.E., Becker.

Meeting dates for various book clubs sponsored by the Great River Regional Library in St. Cloud and its branch libraries can be found on the events page at

Finally, to all who love reading–it’s the middle of winter, and there could be many cold, snowy days ahead. So, book club or not, this is that time of year for book lovers to find a cozy corner and snuggle up with a book. It’s not a bad way to spend the afternoon.

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