Saturday, January 28, 2012

How to Start a Nonfiction Book Club

As a reference librarian I've been asked to host events for just about everything from building dedications to Victorian tea parties to murder mystery dinners. Believe me, over the years I've seen and done all types of programs. However, I've never had my own book club; that is until 2011.

At the end of 2010 I was asked to create a new nonfiction book club. It sounded like a great opportunity to try something new. However, how does one go about creating a book club, especially one that focuses on nonfiction? I started by asking colleagues for advice. While many were moderators of book clubs, they had never actually started a new one; most had simply taken over an existing book club. So I started to search online and compiled some helpful hints to share with everyone interested in starting a nonfiction book club.
  1. Attend other book clubs. Since I probably hadn't been to a book discussion since college, I thought it best to first experience a book club from the viewpoint of a participant. Thus, I asked colleagues if I could attend their book clubs. Luckily, I was invited to three different clubs and even though they focus on fiction, each happened to be featuring a nonfiction book that month. Attending several different clubs allowed me to see the different styles of the leaders and the interactions of the groups.
  2. Visit Libraries. This allows you to see what's already being offered in your area. Librarians may have insights into what types of programs and books work and what don't. They may also have an idea of what has already been tried and what hasn't. Helpful Hint: Many libraries have Book Club resources and kits. The kits usually contain multiple copies of a book and discussion questions. Additionally, Book Club Kits can often be checked out for an extended loan periods; just ask your librarian to be sure.
  3. Choose a time for the new book club to meet. In my case, I had to consider how the group would be structured, and I didn't want to offer a program that coincided with another book club. Also, I had to choose a time and day that would be convenient for patrons. Plus, I was trying to fill a gap in programming. After looking at the other offerings, I decided that the group would meet quarterly in the evenings. Some groups meet bimonthly or even monthly, the choice is up to you.
  4. Choose a location. When you create a new group, you have to consider where to meet. This could be in a library meeting room or the church basement. If you are creating a neighborhood book club, the group might decide to meet in a different member's house every month. Be sure to select a room that fits the needs of your group. For example, if you have a small group, a large meeting room might be overwhelming.
  5. Select the books. There are so many choices here. One could easily go with a selection of Great Books. Another option would be to focus on true stories that have been turned into movies. Discussing books that have made the New York Times Bestsellers list was another suggestion. There is also the possibility of choosing a different theme each year. For example, my home library is focusing on the Civil War for 2012. Since my group was going to be meeting quarterly, I decided to give each quarter a theme. For 2011 my themes included: Winter = True Crime, Spring = Medical Mystery, Summer = Culinary Biography, and Fall= Hospice Care. Helpful Hint: Avoid books with strong political or religious views which might offend participants.
  6. Get the word out. Contact local newspapers, get free publicity, and invite people to join the group. Helpful Hint: When writing your press releases, don't forget to mention that the evening includes refreshments. Free food always boosts attendance.
Now that it's already 2012, I can't believe that my book club is starting its second year. We had lots of fun discussing the books and are looking forward to new themes. In fact, I just ordered the books for our February meeting.

So why not give it a try? Celebrate a love of nonfiction by sharing your interests and starting a new nonfiction book club. You don't need to be a librarian to have your own book club and you don't need a lot of money. Anyone with a love of books can organize a book club. Not only is it fun to do, it's also very rewarding. If you follow the advice above, your new book club will be enjoying nonfiction for years to come.

Still wondering what to do? Check out these resources:
  2. Book Discussions for Adults: A Leader's Guide by Ted Balcom. Paperback published by American Library Association in 1992. 67 p. ISBN: 978-0838934135
  3. LitLovers
  4. Reading Group Choices
  5. The Reader's Choice: 200 Book Club Favorites by Victoria Golden McMains. Paperback published by William Morrow in 2000. 288 p. ISBN: 978-0688174354

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

✰✰✰½ Alcatraz Smedry is just an average kid in foster care... or is he? He always sensed that he was a little bit different from the other kids; after all he has a knack for breaking things. However, things really start to get strange when he receives a mysterious birthday gift containing a seemingly normal bag of sand from the parents he has never known. Soon his whole world is turned upside down when the sand is stolen.

As Alcatraz prepares to leave yet another foster home, a man claiming to be his grandfather appears. His grandfather suspects that a cult of evil Librarians has stolen the sand. As his grandfather fills Alcatraz in, he discovers that things are not what they seem to be. Before dire consequences set in, this unlikely duo must undertake a dangerous mission to infiltrate the central library and recover the stolen sand as soon as possible. And as if that's not enough, Alcatraz discovers that his knack for breaking things is actually a "talent." Of course all Smedrys have a "talent," but Alcatraz's is something special. With help of his newfound abilities and an interesting slew of companions, Alcatraz learns about the importance of friendship and family as together they rush to put a stop to the evil Librarians.

The Bottom Line: Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians is a quick read that's loaded with lots of action, adventure, and fun. The narrator, who talks directly to the reader, is snarky and humorous. This book is the first in a series that's sure to be a hit with middle grade readers who enjoy fantasy.

Details: Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson. Paperback published by Scholastic Inc. in 2007. 320 p. ISBN: 978-439-92552-5

For more information on upcoming books, visit Brandon Sanderson's website.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

✰✰✰ Peter Nimble is a blind orphan who must steal to survive. Despite his disability, he has honed his lock picking skills to perfection and earned a reputation as the best thief in the land. On one fateful day Peter steals a box, and as luck would have it, the contents change his life forever. As Peter tries to discover the purpose of the six magical eggs contained within the box, he is suddenly thrust into a quest to solve a riddle and save a town from an evil king.

Along the way to the Vanished Kingdom, Peter and his faithful companion, Sir Tode, must battle many obstacles and overcome challenges. Together they embark on an adventure of a lifetime and discover the values of friendship and trust.

The Bottom Line: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is an epic tale filled with adventure and action. Young Peter never lets his disability stand in the way of his goals, and along the way he learns to trust in both himself and his friends. Jonathan Auxier's debut novel is an enjoyable read; however, there is a distinct shift in tone and voice that occurs in part three. Due to some scenes of violence depicted in the book and some challenging vocabulary words, it might not be appropriate for younger readers. Also, the book is nearly 400 pages long and perhaps could have been tightened up a little. Thus, I would recommend this novel for both middle grade readers and young adults.

Details: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. Hardcover published by Amulet Books in 2011. 400 p. ISBN: 978-1-4197-0025-5

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Review: Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa

✰✰✰✰ Oscar is not just your average housecat; he is a cat with a calling. As a resident of Steere House, he tends to the dying. Oscar has a knack for knowing when a patient is ready to pass on. Then he settles in on their bed and oversees their last moments on earth making the process just a little more comfortable for patients, their families, and staff alike. Oscar is so accurate that over time, the staff has come to rely on him to know when to notify families.

In addition to sharing observations about Oscar's uncanny gift, Dr. Dosa also imparts information to the reader about dementia related illnesses and hospice care. Many of the stories presented are uplifting although some tend to blend together after a while.

The Bottom Line: Dr. Dosa weaves together Oscar's tale with a collection of informative and touching patient stories. I originally chose this title for my nonfiction book club to read; it turned out to be their favorite book of the year. Don't let the topics of hospice, dementia, and dying deter you from reading this book. Pick it up and start reading; you'll be glad you did. Highly recommended for anyone who has a loved one with Alzheimer's or dementia. Also, recommended for medical students and professionals looking to gain a deeper understanding of hospice care.

Details: Making Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat by David Dosa. Hardcover published by Hyperion in 2010. 240 p. ISBN: 9781401323233

For more information, visit Dr. Dosa's website or the Steere House website.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012!

Happy New Year Everyone! Last year I made a New Year's resolution to take the 50 Book Challenge. I wasn't sure I'd be able to complete it, but I was willing to give it a go. Luckily, I did complete my goal just in the nick of time.

This year I'll be taking the 50 book challenge again and I hope you do too. Whether you check out books from the library or load up your Kindle, taking the 50 Book Challenge is a great way to start the year off.

Again this year I will be keeping track of my progress with a ticker counter and also at LibraryThing. You can watch my progress on the counter below:

I hope 2012 is filled with lots of good books for everyone to read. Good luck everyone!