It’s All About the Book: Notes on Book Clubs

If you’ve ever been to our bookstore, you may have noticed the Book Clubs fixture near the front, between the local authors table and the poetry section. And you may have even seen Kathy Schultenover, Parnassus Book Clubs Manager, attending to the shelves, binder in hand, making sure everything is in order — or leading the Parnassus Book Club in discussion. Maybe you’re a book club member who shops this section regularly, or perhaps you’ve wondered about it. Or maybe you took Kathy’s advice and gave your book club a reboot this year. Whatever the case, we think you’ll enjoy these observations she collected recently about the many clubs around Nashville and their varied approaches. Check it out!

Here’s Kathy with the scoop:

Parnassus Books has had an active Book Club Registry since we opened almost nine years ago. Local clubs let us know their monthly selection, we add it to our Book Club shelf, and then club members can purchase their books at a discount. It’s a lot of fun to see what clubs in the community are reading, and it helps others choose books for themselves or their own clubs. Lately I’ve been curious about our registered clubs, so I sent out a brief survey to learn more about them.

While each club has its own personality, they also share a lot of similarities. Many clubs:

  • Choose their selections by having members bring suggestions to an organizational meeting.
  • Are led by a member who serves as a facilitator on a rotating basis.
  • Read predominantly fiction, with the occasional memoir or other nonfiction title sprinkled in. Several clubs will also add in a classic once a year. (And many noted that unpopular choices can make for great discussions.)
  • Don’t meet in December or they have a special meeting format where members might read poems or present a cookbook. Club members may hold a book exchange.
  • Take the summer off for time to refresh and do “free reading.”

But I also learned that many of our clubs have interesting and sometimes quirky traits that make them unique. Here are just a few:

  • There are at least two Vanderbilt Women’s Book Groups. One of the clubs has a tradition of beginning the meeting with each member summarizing the book in one word.
  • There’s a Mother-Daughter club which started when the girls were in fourth grade and was mother-led. Now in eighth grade, the girls choose the books and lead the discussions.
  • Two groups, Christ the King and Book Buddies, meet at Catholic churches but not all members are Catholic.
  • Chautauqua has been meeting for 29 years. They’ll read on a theme for several months at a time, like the works of Shirley Jackson or Women and War.
  • The Nashville Women’s Breakfast Club only meets quarterly since so many of its members are also in other book clubs. Each quarter focuses on a different category of books: fiction, nonfiction, classic, Nashville/local interest.
  • Bonding Over Books meets in restaurants all over town.
  • Book Squad meets at a gym. Club members sit on yoga mats in their workout gear.
  • The Karen Weeks club will discuss their 400th book in 2020.
  • The “No Guilt” club attributes its success and longevity to espousing a “no guilt” policy if a member hasn’t read the book.
  • The West Meade Club has a 40-plus year age range with everyone from young mothers to grandmothers.
  • The Germantown Club has a 9-year-old member. An avid reader, he comes to meetings prepared to report on something he has read recently, then goes off to read while the adult members discuss their book. The son of two members, he’s been coming since birth.

I was especially struck by two things that nearly everyone mentioned in their surveys. First, their clubs were cited as great sources of friendship and support, especially around life’s milestones — births, marriages, divorces, and deaths — and in sharing in the joys and rough patches of daily living. And, while socializing and fun were important to all, most made serious book discussion a priority in their meetings. These are not the book clubs who exist just to drink wine!

I’m glad to know more about the groups we serve. The dozens of clubs in the Parnassus Book Club Registry are a vibrant force in the reading life of our city!

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Want to start your own book club? Just stop by the store and fill out a simple form — ask at the register! Or you can participate in one of our store clubs. Here are the upcoming dates:

Parnassus Book Club
Discussing Only to Sleep
Monday, July 22 at 6:30pm
Wednesday, July 24 at 6:30pm
Thursday, July 25 at 10am

Classics Club
Discussing The Big Sleep
Monday, July 29 at 10am and 6:30pm

Looking ahead: The August selection is Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Book Club meetings will be Monday, Aug. 19 at 6:30 and Thursday, Aug. 22 at 10:30. Please note that on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 6:30pm, Parnassus staff will lead a discussion of The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss.