If you ever find yourself in a reading rut, joining a book club could be your literary salvation. “There are too many good books in the world to bother reading something that just makes you go . . .” Heidi Hoogstra gives a little shrug to illustrate a lack of impact. “Whatever you like to read, read it well.”
Hoogstra knows her books. She’s been a clerk at the Hollywood branch of Multnomah County Library since 2002 and has facilitated its Pageturners book club for eight years. Of her tenure she says, “The thing that keeps me coming back, month after month, year after year, and I’ve heard this from a lot of our longtime members as well, is the opportunity to read things that you wouldn’t otherwise choose for yourself.” Hoogstra’s group casts a wide fiction net, encompassing everything from last year’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Goldfinch to 1978’s novelization of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City, but hers is just one of the many Pageturner groups within the Multnomah County Library system. Some groups are general, and others specialize in areas like nonfiction, classics, or black voices. “Every group has a different flavor,” she says. “There’s something for everyone.”
Paperbacks (and the occasional hardcover) for the Pageturners are provided to members free of charge through a grant from Friends of the Library. Each group submits a reading list once a year (Hollywood Pageturner members vote on their list but for some groups the facilitator decides the titles), and there is no limit to the amount of time a member can keep their book. Hoogstra explains, “It often happens that someone will come to a meeting having read only a portion of the book because they weren’t enjoying it or perhaps were struggling. After our discussions, that person will sometimes be inspired to give the book another try with a new perspective.”
And who are these group members voicing their opinions and gaining new perspectives? A typical Pageturner meeting will be between 8–12 people, mostly women. “Something I’ve noticed over the years is that men will usually come to a meeting to discuss that particular book because they really liked it or have a strong opinion,” Hoogstra observes, “whereas women will come no matter what the book is, just to participate in the discussion. That’s just my personal observation so I don’t want to generalize, but it’s something we talk about in the library a lot: where are all the men?”
That last question could be the basis for a much longer piece about reader demographics, but I won’t go into that here—we’re talking book clubs. In an area as devoted to literature as Portland, one needn’t rely on the local library to provide discussion opportunities. Both Powell’s Books and Barnes & Noble provide space for bookclubs to meet outside the city. In Beaverton, Powell’s hosts mystery, science fiction, and classics groups that are organized entirely by members. The women’s fiction and Armchair Detectives groups at Barnes & Noble in Beaverton have the same basic set-up—they’re run by members who have been attending for many years. However at Barnes & Noble in Vancouver, it’s a different story—their fantasy, mystery, and (brand new!) graphic novel groups are run by volunteers from the store’s staff.
The general rule for Portland book clubs seems to be that there are no rules. A quick search on meetup.com will lead you to groups that meet in pubs and some that meet in cafes, groups for women and groups for gay men, groups dedicated to a particular genre and some devoted to a single author. And if none of these suit you? Go ahead and start your own club! Pageturners To Go provides sets of ten books to library members for up to six weeks, and there’s always the option to support your local bookseller. Here in Portland, we’re very lucky to live amongst so many people who are dedicated to reading well.