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February 06, 2014
Whether called a book club, a discussion group or a reading group, men and women are getting together to discuss topics ranging from poetry, classics, fiction and non fiction, newly released best sellers, lesser known titles to picture books.

Some book clubs are organized around similar interests, others admit only women, others are men-only clubs and some cater to couples or families. Others are reading a single genre; some are organized so participants can just read, socialize, and, if time permits, talk about the plot, writing style and what thoughts and emotions the book produced in the reader.

Whatever the reason, book clubs are prolific because it's a good reason to get together.

"It must be working because it is a fun thing to do," Grosse Pointe Public Library Central librarian Cynthia Zurschmiede said.

"Beside getting the true meaning out of the books we read, we also share in wonderful camaraderie," said Jill Crane, Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church Women's Book Discussion Group facilitator.

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Nathan Heller, writing for online Slate.com, estimates more than five million adults are in book clubs, a concept that began in the mid-18th century, organized by English women. Their American counterparts took up the idea because they wanted to continue learning outside the limited mainstream education afforded women at the time. By the 1920s, the Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild were offering books to mainstream America. Today, book clubs can be found meeting in libraries or neighborhood homes. Organizations and churches have formed book discussion groups as special interest groups.

There are no age limits for creating a book club, said Zurschmiede, who has been moderating a group for six years.

Filled with retirees, Zurschmiede's group of 10 to 12, has a waiting list of those who would like to read and discuss more recently published material.

"I pull selected books from the Best of NPR, (or) 2013 best books of the year," she said of how books are selected.

The group meets once a month, September through May, to discuss books in paperback she has purchased.

Zurschmiede said one of the positives of a book club is reading books she wouldn't normally have selected.

After her group is done with the books, they are turned into book kits to be loaned for eight weeks to other book clubs. The kits include 10 books, book review, an author biography and book club how to's.

If there was more staff, Zurschmiede said, the library would offer more than five book discussion groups for adults, middle schoolers and mothers and daughters.

Kathleen Gallagher's book club is geared to mothers and their fourth or fifth grade daughters, meeting from October through April. Gallagher selects books with a female character about the same age as her young participants in the genres of fantasy, historical fiction, realistic or mystery. This month's book is "The Case of the Missing Marquess" by Nancy Springer.

When the group gathers at Ewald branch, Gallagher leads them into the discussion either via a game or a discussion of the characters or the plot.

Chris Kronback of Grosse Pointe Farms is a member of a three-year-old club created as a way for female family members to gather on a regular basis on a Sunday afternoon. Meeting once a month, books are selected upon a member's suggestion and topics alternate between a deep, thought-provoking book to something of a lighter fare.

Conversations begin with a question, she said, such as what character did you like best or who did or didn't like the book

"It snowballs from one to another," she said as the women, who range in age from 22 to 87, talk about that month's selection.

Kronback said she believes the wide range of ages is a good thing.

"The different age group is beneficial. It's very interesting to see their thoughts on a book," she said.

"We read a lot of different kinds of books," she said. "It's not always fiction, but mostly fiction."

Group consensus is the way the GPUC selects its book list.

"We have a potluck dinner in May and many bring book suggestions and we choose from there. We try to vary the selections. We often have a poetry meeting as one of our members is a retired English teacher," Crane said.

Many book clubs are led by a moderator, such as Gallagher or Zurschmiede. Others are led by the person who suggested the title, as happens in Crane's group.

"The leader usually gives a background on the author and information on other books he or she has written. From there, the leader usually does some question and answer time and the conversation seems to flow from there," Crane said.

Book clubs at the library are moderated by the librarian.

In preparation for her group, Zurschmiede reads the book, researches the author and prepares questions to prompt the discussion.

"I routinely ask 'who finished the book?' 'Who did not like the book?' 'Who did like the book?' I let it (the discussion) spin itself. It's a new discussion every time," she said.

While conversing about the book, Zurschmiede said, personal stories, triggered by the book's plot, often surface. To keep on point, she suggested book clubs be limited to about 90 minutes with a dozen members. Book clubs with more members tend to form smaller outside conversations away from the moderator.

"I am always amazed at what insight some of them (book club members) have and feel I learn so much when I attend," Crane said. "It makes reading so much more fun."

And isn't that the point to be on the same page?

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