42: Bonding Over Books

42: Bonding Over Books

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Bonding Over Books

Every reader finds himself. The writer’s work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.

~Marcel Proust

The elderly gentleman stood in front of the checkout desk at the small branch library where I’d just taken a job as manager. “Do you know of a book I might like?”

I chatted with him a few minutes and learned of several things he was interested in. Then I found a couple of books that I thought might work and sent him happily on his way. The scene repeated itself a couple of hours later, only this time the inquirer was a stay-at-home mom. Again, I found some reading material that seemed to make her happy.

All in all, a successful first morning on the job.

The afternoon was a little more challenging. A teenager with numerous facial piercings came through the door in a huff. “I have to write a book report for school,” she told me, “and I want to read something really non-traditional.” Luckily, I’d familiarized myself with the contents of our young adult shelves and was able to steer her toward a book that seemed to satisfy her.

“Hooray!” I said to myself as I locked up for the night. I love people. I love books. Putting the two together was the main reason I’d taken this job.

But something unforeseen began to happen when my library patrons returned the books they’d borrowed. They wanted to talk about them. To tell me what they’d liked and disliked. To discuss intricacies of plot and character. At length and in depth. Problem was, I didn’t have time for all that.

Or did I?

Why not invite a group of book enthusiasts to meet after hours at the library and talk about what they’d read? It would be a good way for me to get to know my patrons. A chance for everybody to share their love of the written word. And for all of us to make new friends at the same time. Thus was born the idea for the Book Bunch.

Seven library patrons and I met for the first time on a warm spring evening. I served take-out pizza and soft drinks. The oldest person at the meeting was an eighty-five-year-old retired nurse. The youngest was a sixteen-year-old high school student. (Yep, the girl with facial piercings, who easily devoured three or four books per week.)

After introducing ourselves and scarfing down every single morsel of pizza, we each took a few minutes to discuss a book we’d read and enjoyed over the past month. Then came the big question: Is this how we wanted to format our future meetings or did we prefer that everyone read and discuss the same book?

“How about both?” Barbara, the nurse, suggested.

That’s what we decided on. I found enough money in the budget to purchase several sets of used paperback books that I thought would stimulate discussion.

Every other month, we all discussed the same book. On alternate months, each member gave a ten-minute book report. Every meeting started with a simple potluck supper, served on paper plates.

You know what? Those seven people became some of the best friends I ever had. And good friends to each other, too. Melissa, the high school student, began giving Barbara a ride to and from the Book Bunch meetings when she became too feeble to drive herself. Albert and Rob became fishing buddies. Suellen organized meals both for our meetings and to take to any member who was under the weather.

Three years after I began working as library manager, I accepted a job in a different town. Leaving the Book Bunch was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But we’ve kept in touch via phone and e-mail, and I’m happy to report that the group is still going strong.

I’m also happy to report that even though I no longer work at a library, I’ve joined a book discussion group at the library in the town where I now live. Not surprisingly, the members of that group have turned out to be wonderful new friends.

I guess there’s just something about a love of reading that brings people together.

~Jennie Ivey

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