/Reading together: Book clubs connect friends over good reads  

Reading together: Book clubs connect friends over good reads  

By Sue Tiffin

Throughout the county, dozens of thriving book clubs – some of them public and open to members, some private and made up of longtime friends – bring people together for stimulating conversation and shared time together over a love of reading. Here, a few members of those clubs speak to what makes the groups so special: 

The Next Chapter

Andrea Roberts, who in her role as mayor of Dysart sits on the Haliburton County Public Library board said she loves the library’s book club sets, which offer eight of the same title alongside a folder with book club questions and background information. The book sets are largely funded by the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library and many offer print, audiobook, large print or e-versions of the same title.

Haliburton County Public Library has a collection of almost 70 book club sets, which each come with eight copies of the book – some with audiobooks or large print options – and optional resources to help lead a book club. /Photo submitted by HCPL

The Next Chapter has been meeting since 2010, said Roberts.

“What it’s done is solidify a friendship even better with those book club friends, because it puts you on a schedule and sets a time to meet,” she said.

They’ve even met virtually, with some members joining in while on vacation in Florida. 

At the first book club, Roberts showed up with a blank journal, deciding to write the date, the participants in that meeting, and some points of discussion. 

“It’s become a bit of a running joke now, I’m the secretary and have to bring the book,” she laughed. “It kind of keeps us on track to know who is next, because we do start to lose it a bit.”

Now the book reminds Roberts of details like the time in 2012, when the question around the table was, “how did this win the Giller prize?” Once, the book was called Before I Go to Sleep, but one member mistakenly read Before I Wake. Later, the group started doing a rating out of five – before the group discussion, and after, in case the rating changes. 

They meet six times a year, at around 7 p.m. at night, every other month. 

“We talk, talk, talk, how are the kids, how was your trip, have a glass of wine – and then an hour later, we should talk about book club!” laughed Roberts. “It’s always really interesting because often your opinion doesn’t change, and lots of times it does. Maybe I didn’t see that angle or that side.”

Roberts said the group usually reads fiction. One member reads the end first if it’s a mystery because she can’t stand the suspense. 

“When we’re reading anything in our lives, it depends on where you’re at in your own life – you could be just tired, or you’re on holiday and you read it in three days, or that book appealed to you at a certain time. I find that part so interesting, it just depends on where you’re at or how stressful life is in other ways, when you’re reading a book.”

Andrea Roberts has kept a notebook chronicling her book club’s time together. She started recording the name of the book, date they were meeting and who was in attendance, but it has evolved to also include book ratings and anecdotes. /Photo by Andrea Roberts

Roberts said the time together offers a relaxing time for all the friends. 

“We don’t take ourselves seriously at all, this is not English Lit 101, there’s no grading,” she said. “We tried to get easy on the appetizers, just don’t fuss, because that’s not what it’s all about.”

Roberts said she’s appreciative of the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library for being instrumental in financing the books, to create the book sets, and thinks they offer something for newcomers to the area too, in order to make connections with others. 

“It’s pure enjoyment, a love of reading, a love of storytelling, how a book can hit you at a certain point in life and be incredibly powerful,” she said of the club’s impact. “We don’t all think the same even though we’re friends. I’m sure we’ll continue as long as we’re all around.”

Books on Film 

Tammy Rea is in three book clubs. One, the Coasters, is made up of local friends who had come to the area from coast to coast. Also named because, “that’s what you put your wine glass on, and because it is meant to be a time period where you can just relax a little bit.”

She’s been in that group for 17 years, with about 12 members, each who hosts once a year and serves a lunch to go with the book. 

“So you make lunch once for 12 people, and then you go to 11 lunches,” she said. 

Books on Film is a public group that came from a connection between Those Other Movies, the Rails End Gallery and the Haliburton County Public Library. 

The group knows the book a few months in advance, and has the option to read the story as well as watch the movie. 

“Then we talk about everything,” said Rea. “First we do a mini book analysis, then we bring in the film. How did they do something? And we really learned that a 100-page story can be a two-and-a-half hour movie. So what do you have to cut out of a 500-page story to tell a movie? Which is always why the book is better.”

Rea said it’s fascinating to see different interpretations of a story on film over the years, such as with The Great Gatsby.  

“We’ll compare different themes, talk about how they use colour, music, to help tell something,” she said. “It’s so good.”  

Some people don’t read the book or watch the movie, they just come for the discussion.

“We always do the discussion of which one did you do first and does that make a difference, and which one would you recommend to people?,” said Rea.  

To date, the group of anywhere from 12 to 24 people has read 27 books – including The Princess Bride, Atonement, Persepolis – over four years, and has been conducting virtual meetings over the past two years. 

“The first dozen we did were books I had never read but always knew I should have, including The  Handmaid’s Tale,” said Rea. “And I’m so thankful, I’ve learned so much, because if you’re taking something that’s now been turned into film, it’s good.”

The Books on Film group is planning on meeting in-person again. Contact the Rails End Gallery to learn more.

The W(h)ine and Fight Book Club

The book club at the Haliburton County Public Library’s Gooderham branch was started by librarian Marilyn Billings.

“I didn’t join in until about 2012 or so, and I guess it was because I figured it would be a nice evening out when the weather wasn’t bad, I liked reading and liked supporting the library in Gooderham,” said Sally Salmon. “There were sometimes four or five bookies – nothing to do with gambling – in for the once-a-month Tuesday night meeting, not including Lunker the library service dog, my Great Dane who always came along for the ride to town.”

Many book clubs end up having a creative name that is well-suited to the theme of the club, or the personality of the club members. In Gooderham, the group that meets refers to themselves as the W(h)ine and Fight Book Club.

“The name W(h)ine and Fight Book Club came about when one of the charter members would call and say she wasn’t coming because she’d forgotten it was Tuesday and had a glass of wine with supper,” said Salmon. “The fight part because of Fight Club – nobody talks about Fight Club – even though we would rarely fight about anything and actually did talk about book club. Sometimes there was a bit of whining.”

Prior to the pandemic, the group was made up of anywhere between three to six members, with anyone welcome to join on the second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m.

The Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library help keep book clubs in the county informed of new book club sets available at the library, and also take suggestions for books to include. /Photo submitted by HCPL

“We’d either have a free read or get a Book Club in a Bag from the main library,” said Salmon. “With a free read month, one could read whatever and then give a synopsis and a thumbs up or thumbs down. With the Book Club in a Bag, same rules applied, although no synopsis needed as we all read it — or most of it — and then the thumbs up and why or thumbs down and why.  We are the anti-matter of book clubs — we don’t pick a book apart, we don’t try to analyze the author’s ‘hidden meaning,’ or even read the discussion questions at the end of the book.”

And then, laughing: “Maybe once or twice we did, but decided it was ‘not who we are.'”

“Current membership is three of us who were in the pre-pandemic crew, not including Summer the library service dog, my collie cross who always comes along for the ride to town,” said Salmon. “Another member is my across the road neighbour who reads whatever we are reading and gives me his comments to take in to the group. If the weather is bad, we cancel, if the weather is too hot, we sometimes cancel, if Kevin Costner or Paul Rudd wants to have lunch at my house, I’ll cancel. We just reschedule for a better day.”

When the group uses the book club bags, they choose an option from the list available.

“Our first one just recently was A Gentleman in Moscow, and it was a long and protracted read thanks to the lockdowns again after the first of the year,” said Salmon. “Three votes of Yea, and one vote of Nay.”

Salmon said a memorable moment was being able to Skype with author Cathy Buchanan after the group read her book, The Painted Girls.

“It was doubly interesting to me as Ms. Buchanan had written most of her book at her cottage on one of the lakes that was served by the marina I worked at. We were able to ask her about her research — she went to France to do that — and her writing process. It was fun to hear what she had to say.”

While a small group, the Gooderham book club has been essential to those who are in it.

“W&F is about the books, but it’s also about just getting together for an hour to shoot the breeze or catch up on what’s been going on in the last month and maybe rant a bit about something — like toothpaste tubes that never let you get all the paste out,” said Salmon. “Thanks to W&F I’ve read books by numerous authors about numerous subjects and time periods and for the most part they’ve all been nothing to whine or fight about — they’ve all been pretty darn good. The Gooderham branch is a lifeline for permanent and seasonal residents and we’re glad it’s there.”

The group will be meeting on May 25 for a ‘free read,’ and anyone is welcome to come that day with whatever books they’ve read — the more the merrier. A book club set will be used during the last Wednesday of this upcoming June at 11 a.m. Call the branch at 705-447-3163 for more information.

The Gardens of Haliburton 

Alisha Lafleur, assistant general manager and activities director at the Gardens of Haliburton said when the residence first opened, staff was purchasing books for the residents, but once pandemic restrictions lifted, they wanted to be able to engage in the community and work with the resources available. Andrea Brown, public services librarian with the HCPL gave the group a Gardens library card, information about the book club kits on offer and answered questions the group had about how to get started. 

“The detailed book list makes it easier for the residents to look through that and make choices,” said Lafleur. 

A wall of book club sets: The Haliburton County Public Library has a collection of about 70 book club sets. A detailed list of the books available, and when they are available, can be found at the HCPL website./Photo submitted by HCPL

Once a month, the group of about eight people gets together to share their favourite parts of the book.

“The library kits come with a list of questions, that we as activity staff can use to engage and start conversation about the book,” said Lafleur. “Which is really beneficial for us because sometimes if we don’t have time to read the book ourselves, we can still ask questions that pertain to what they’ve read.”

Lafleur said she appreciates the access of the book list online to see what’s available or not, and the option to put book club kits on hold.  

“We’ve also been able to provide large print books or audiobooks for residents who are visually impaired, so that’s been beneficial as well,” she said.  

While a staff member is on hand to help moderate, Lafleur said the group largely organizes themselves.

A book club for residents at The Gardens of Haliburton brings avid readers together in conversation, often using book club kits from the Haliburton County Public Library. /Photo submitted by Alisha Lafleur

“We really quickly recognized that our demographic of residents really enjoyed reading and it would be a program they would enjoy and it would be well-received,” she said. “When we organize programs, it’s always based on the needs and interests of the residents. We started with some donated books and residents continue to add to that collection. They’re always coming down and borrowing a book, bringing a book back, and one of the residents said, hey, we should have a book club!”

In the future, Lafleur hopes local authors will visit with their books to do readings for residents in the club. 

“For them, it’s something to keep them busy and entertained,” she said. “This generation is not overly interested in watching TV so reading is one of their favourite past times. I think they mostly talk about the books themselves but definitely situations come up where they can relate to something that’s happened to them similarly, in the past, or maybe it’s even a book they’ve read in the past and so it keeps the conversation going and provides them with a really engaging social experience.” 

Minden Hills Book Club  

Nicole Dolliver, HCPL staff, facilitates the Minden Hills Book Club, which was formerly led by Nancy Therrien for years and meets at the Minden branch of the library. 

The public book club group operates differently than most — Dolliver makes a list based on a theme such as Giller prize winners, books that grab you from the first line or books recommended in celebrity book clubs. Readers then choose what they’d like to read from the list, and while members might all read something different, they can comment on the book they read, or the theme of the month. 

“There’s a lot of different variety of tastes, so having a themed club allows people to choose which book they prefer, and still be able to discuss it and share the impression they have for it,” said Dolliver. “I read a lot of romance, one of the members reads a lot of non-fiction, another likes the feel-good books.”

The Minden Hills Book Club is a public book club that meets at the library, virtually, or with some members meeting in person and some meeting virtually. Rather than all reading the same book, this book club runs on themes – so all members might read different books but then chat about what they read and how it ties in to the overall idea of the month./Photo submitted by HCPL

Dolliver said the group that meets shares personal connections with the group, like when one reader could share their knowledge of having lived in India during a read of a book set in that location. 

 “It’s interesting to hear all of that stuff, and I’m thinking, I never would have thought of that,” said Dolliver. “When they’re talking about the books, it actually helps me with my job a little bit, because people are always asking for recommendations, and I’m able to tell them that I’ve heard a book is really good.”

Dolliver’s list includes about 14 books in each theme. The public group meets on the last Wednesday of every month at 2 p.m.  

“It’s really nice to hear people so happy about all of these books, that we’ve put this work into it, the themes we’ve come up  with and the books I’ve selected. They come in, they’re happy, they’re talking, they become pretty close. They’ve gained the connections of their community. It’s kind of like a gathering of friends.” 

Themes from the Minden Hills Book Club have included: RBC Taylor Prize for Canadian Literary Non-Fiction; Great Non-Fiction Published in 2019; Books that Grab you from the First Line; Great Books under the Radar; Evergreen Nominees; Some of the BEST Fiction Written by Women; CBC Canada Reads 2019 Longlist; Dysfunctional Childhood Memoirs; Books to Read when you need a break from politics; Man Booker Prize Shortlist  and Giller prize Long List; Young Adult books that Adults Love Too! and Experimental and/or Unusual Books.

Books First Book Club

Mary Trepanier is a member of Books First, a book club that has been meeting for about 25 years with the same members.

She said it started when a local teacher suggested a book club in the late ‘90s, saying, “you find three members, and I’ll find three … Then she called and said, well, I’ve got six. The teachers were running down the hall saying, ‘let me join, let me join,’ and in no time we had 10.”

The Books First book club in 2010: Terry Hartwick, Elizabeth Turner, Sybil Roodenburg, Rozanne Hynard, Sue Sisson, Marg Valentine, Betty Mark, Mary Trepanier. Absent:  Pat Brezina, Julie Kennedy, Brenda Eastmure. /Photo submitted by Mary Trepanier

Trepanier said the group tries to use the library book sets when possible. 

Generally, they get together for a ‘choose a book night,’ when everyone writes their recommendations on a recipe card that gets passed around for an anonymous vote. 

“It has me read books I wouldn’t have picked up off the shelf, but I’m glad I did,” she said. 

Some members like to share their favourite quote or passage, others like finding the unique words, looking them up to provide a definition to the group. In total, Trepanier thinks the group has likely read more than 250 books together over the years. 

“All these teachers were teaching at the time, I thought they’d want to take a summer break but they said, no, that’s when we get the chance to read,” she said.

They meet in the evenings, occasionally at a restaurant, and always at the homes of members who live on the lake in the summer. 

They’re called Books First, “because everyone would get there and we’d talk and talk and talk, but not about books. We’re supposed to talk about the books first, but that doesn’t work. We’re still … now it’s sort of more than a book club. We’ve made some lasting friendships.”

The group takes a collection when someone has a family member fall ill or pass away, and helps each other out when someone is recovering from a surgery or needs extra help. 

Together they’ve explored areas if the book they’re reading takes place in a nearby location, as when they visited Niagara Falls after reading The Day the Falls Stood Still.

“We went down on a road trip,” said Trepanier. “We drove to all the places mentioned in the book, and it was great fun.”

Guest authors have met with the group via Zoom during the pandemic, and they’re also able to share photos of details relevant to the books when they meet online. 

“It kind of makes it come alive for you,” said Trepanier. 

“We talk about the style, and even the typeface, if it’s good to go to bed with, or a mystery – whether the writer was fair,” she said. “There’s lots to talk about.”

Trepanier uses sticky Post-It notes to make notes on the page when something is of interest to her so she can remember to share it later.   

“Any way to read books is good,” said Trepanier. “This is just another way that can be good for you.”

Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library

If you have a private or public book club happening in Haliburton County, please let Shirley Moore, book club co-ordinator with the Friends of the Haliburton County Public Library know. Moore keeps book clubs informed of new book club sets available, and also takes suggestions for book club sets. To date, she knows of 29 book clubs currently happening in Haliburton County.

For more information about public book clubs or the Haliburton County Library book sets, ask a librarian, visit www.haliburtonlibrary.ca or browse the library’s book clubs resource page.