Steamboat library book clubs build connections and facilitate community discussions
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Books can be magical things. Their pages can take readers to opposite ends of the world, place them in someone else’s shoes, open their eyes to things they’ve never thought of seeing and even help them believe in magic again.
Michelle Dover, who has worked at Bud Werner Memorial Library for almost 16 years, said people would come in to request a list of all the book clubs in town, which the library doesn’t keep on file, or express concern about some of the book clubs in Steamboat being exclusive.
“And I thought, ‘Oh, I should start a book club,” said Dover, who manages circulation services.
With that simple thought, Dover led the charge to create a book club open to everyone in the community who wanted to join.
Book club develops and expands
She decided to call her book club the Read and Discuss series and worked to make sure everyone felt invited to the discussion circle.
The next step was book selection.
“Since people tell me they want to read something they wouldn’t typically read, I try to find something, like a Pulitzer Prize (winning novel), that maybe you wouldn’t read but is worthy of discussion,” Dover said.
A prime example is “Less” by Andrew Sean Greer, the last book Dover’s group read. The Pulitzer Prize winning novel follows a gay man as he travels across the world after accepting every invitation to literary events in order to avoid his ex-boyfriend’s wedding.
Dover said so many people told her they loved the book and never would have read it if she hadn’t suggested it.
Read and Discuss began to grow, and so many people were coming that the discussion started turning into something similar to traffic control at a busy airport.
“I don’t want to direct traffic,” Dover said. “I want everyone to be heard and be able to talk.”
So, Dover decided to add a second meeting time. She now hosts two discussion groups, one at noon and another at 5:30 p.m.
Noon book discussions
• May 7: “Empire of the Summer Moon” by S.C. Gwynne
• July 2: “Lakota Woman” by Mary Crow Dog
• Sept. 3: “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher” by Timothy Egan
• Oct. 1: “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Grann
• Nov. 5: “There, There” by Tommy Orange
5:30 p.m. book discussions
• May 7: “Killers of the Flower Moon”
• July 10: “There, There”
• Sept. 4: “Empire of the Summer Moon”
• Oct. 9: “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher”
• Nov. 6: “Lakota Woman”
Book selection starts to shift
When Dover started her book clubs, she chose mainly fiction books.
“I like fiction to talk about issues because you don’t get engrossed in the politics of it all, but you can still talk about human issues and concerns,” Dover said.
But, after years of focusing on fiction, Dover decided last year was a great time to change course and try out nonfiction.
She started with a “Nonfiction Tales of the American West” series and chose three books: “The Emerald Mile” by Kevin Fedarko, which follows two men rafting down the Grand Canyon; “The Big Burn,” which told how a wildfire led to the creation of the U.S. Forest Service; and “American Wolf,” a book explaining the reintroduction of grey wolves into Yellowstone National Park.
Dover said the feedback she received was overwhelmingly positive. So much so, she decided to stick with nonfiction and chose a Native American-focused series for this summer. And Dover paid careful attention to her book selections, choosing two books written specifically by Native Americans.
“With the Native Americans series, I was really conscious of the voices of the books,” Dover said. “I wanted to give respect to the Native American culture.”
Noon book discussions
• June 4: “Washington Black” by Esi Edugyan
• July 16: “Gun Love” by Jennifer Clement
• Aug. 13: “The Red Daughter” by John Burnham Schwartz
5:30 p.m. book discussions
• June 12: “Gun Love”
• July 31: “The Red Daughter”
• Aug. 21: “Washington Black”
Literary Sojourn will take place Sept. 7.
Other clubs blossom
At one point along the way, Dover had a lightbulb go off: “Why not read books by Literary Sojourn authors?”
Steamboat annually hosts Literary Sojourn, a one-day festival of authors and readers coming together to discuss books presented by Bud Werner Memorial Library. So, Dover added the Literary Sojourn Study to her list of community book clubs.
“I’ve always said, when Literary Sojourn is coming along and everyone’s reading these books, it gives us something to talk about,” Dover said.
Dover also carved out a section of the library for people who want to host their own book club.
She created Carpet Bag Book Club Kits, a book club starter kit available at the library. Each kit includes eight to 12 copies of one book, which can be checked out for four to eight weeks.
View a list of titles available at steamboatlibrary.org.
All of these are part of what Dover sees as the library functioning as a point of connection for community members.
“I just get so excited to share with people, and I love that the library can be that resource,” Dover said.
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