General, Reading

On Book Clubs & Reading

I used to be a huge fan of book clubs, and loved running them when I was a practicing librarian. Over the years, my reading habits had become much more solitary and personal, where I’d read exactly what I wanted and that, my friends, is dangerous reading.

I found my reading so limited, generic, and easy that it wasn’t interesting anymore. I was reading in one lane and it was not only unchallenging but also insulating me from things happening around me. I know many people were in emotional overload and cocooned themselves after the Annus Horribilus of 2020. That’s where I was when 2021 began.

At the beginning of 2021, I decided to change my reading habits to include more challenging and unusual books. That continued through 2022, and was boosted considerably when I joined the Fantastic Strangelings Book Club, run by author and bookstore owner Jenny Lawson. You might know Lawson as The Bloggess or through her bestselling books like Furiously Happy. She also owns and operates the Nowhere Bookshop in San Antonio TX.

The Strangelings Book Club is entirely virtual and you can choose when and how to participate. Lawson selects and sends out one book a month, then will usually post her thoughts on social media, which results in lots of commentary and discussion from other Strangelings. Lawson’s selections are unusual and diverse; reading them has been uplifting, uncomfortable, and irresistible. Here are the selections I read in 2022 – all of them are recommended!

There are many other ways I could have connected to these books, but the Strangelings Book Club worked for me. I found the selection eclectic, thoughtful, very emotionally evocative, and a little bit strange. I learned about countries and cultures I knew nothing about and read genres I’d avoided. What I also rediscovered is that there are threads of living that are the same no matter who you are and where you live. Family relationships – parent and child, siblings, extended family, spouses and partners – are the common threads that bind us all together.

If you’re looking for a book club experience in 2023 and you live in the Rochester NY region, there are plenty of opportunities through the Monroe County Library System. There are also book discussions and plenty of author readings offered in Rochester’s indie bookshops. You should make a point to check out two of my favorites: Akimbo Books at 318b East Avenue in downtown Rochester, and Hipocampo Childrens Books at 638 South Avenue.

If you’re looking for something virtual, the Strangelings club is great, but there is a monthly fee for the book. I do also recommend the Litsy app, where you’ll find lots of virtual book clubs, challenges, and other fun reading activities.

Whatever process you use to select your next book to read, make a point to dip your toes in uncharted waters. Learn about other people and cultures and traditions. Revel in the glorious diversity of stories out there. And make sure to get and use a library card!