Above: Members of a Decatur-based book club that has been together 30 years show some of the books they’ve read through the group. Back row, left to right, Bessie Stephenson, Anne Earle and Lisa Morris; seated, Linda Curry. Staff Photo.

On a recent sunny spring afternoon, a half-dozen people gathered in the community room of a Brookhaven senior apartment complex to talk about people and events in a much different place.

Most members of the group were residents of Hearthside Brookleigh, the apartment complex, but a few were neighbors who’d dropped by to chat. Myguial Chappel, an administrator with the DeKalb Library System, was on hand to lead the discussion. Soon, he had group members talking about the lives and thoughts of people in “Bear Town,” a community that itself lives in a book. This was, after all, a book club.

Lucille Walker

Lucille Walker (above) and James Poulin (below) are members of a book club that meets in Brookhaven. Photo by Joe Earle.

And reviews varied. “When I like a book, I just read it fast,” said Hearthside Ashleigh resident Lucille Walker, a 70-year-old former insurance company employee. “Why do these people do what they do?  It was a very exciting, good book.”

“Talk about slow,” said James Poulin, who listens to CDs rendition of the books that club members “read” each month. “I don’t know how many times I fell asleep in that first disc.”

A club for every taste

These days, whether a book’s a page-turner or nap-inducer, in metro Atlanta, someone may just be talking about it. Clubs of like-minded book fans gather about every day somewhere — in library conference rooms, the living rooms of private homes, church halls, bars, senior centers and just about anywhere else you can arrange a group of chairs for a chat.

Clubs organize themselves around all sorts of books and from all sorts of groups. Meetup, an online service that seeks to connect people with similar interests, lists clubs in metro Atlanta for women, for residents of particular communities, for graduates of certain colleges or universities, for empty nesters, for sci-fi fans, for mystery fans (see article on the Sherlock Holmes Book Club on page 6), for cooks, for vegetarians, for beer fans and for brunch fans.

And older adults make up a large part of the ongoing conversation about books.

James Poulin

James Poulin. Photo by Joe Earle.

Ginny Everett, branch manager of the Kennesaw Library branch in Cobb County, says most of the members of the branch’s reading group are older than 60 and other book club organizers agree that seniors make up a significant portion of club memberships. “I look at book clubs as a way to build communities and a way to build communities of interest,” Everett said. “It does bring together book lovers, that’s for sure.”

Building book clubs

Because librarians like book clubs, they’ve made them easy to organize. They offer book club kits and allow clubs to reserve blocks of popular book-club-friendly books so there will be copies for everyone in a club, and even provide library employees such as Chappel to keep things organized and to lead discussions.

Book club founder Martha Decker has seen how a club can build a community. She started the Greystone North Book Club among women in her north DeKalb County neighborhood in 2010 and has watched it become a neighborhood connection.

“It’s made us all friends,” said Decker, a 76-year-old retired accountant. “And it’s made us all supportive of each other. I know I could call on any one of these people if I needed them … This has become part of the community.”

Creating communities

Book clubs also can create their own communities. Linda Curry, a 66-year-old retired lawyer, joined a book club of neighborhood women friends in 1993. [Full disclosure: My wife is an active member of this club, which turns 30 years old this year.]

“I’ve always loved to read,” Curry said. “In ‘93, my kids were little, and I was not doing much reading or doing much hanging out with other women.” Over time, the club become much more to its members than just a reading group. “We became really close friends,” Curry said. “We’ve been through a lot.”

One member of the group developed ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” and club members rallied around her until her death. “We became more than a book club,” Curry said.

They also started to travel together. They went to Savannah to tour sites related to the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt. They traveled to the north Georgia mountains, and even further afield, to Germany and Maine. Now, the group, down to five and taking no new members, travels together to New York once a year or so to see Broadway plays and museum shows.

“We look forward to seeing each other every month,” Curry said. “Depending on what’s going on every month in our personal lives or politics, we discuss other things, but we do get around to the book.”

The club, she said, “keeps me reading. It broadens my reading.”

It all comes back to the written word

Book clubs can be popular with writers, too. Some meet with clubs to talk about their books, both to sell a few more books and to find out what readers think of their work. “Those are the people who truly love books,” said George Weinstein, former president of The Atlanta Writer’s Club. “It’s almost like the Church of the Book to them. They really do enjoy books and they enjoy meeting authors.”

But in the end, various book club members said, the appeal of the book club gets back to the books. At Hearthside Ashleigh, Walker said the club has introduced her to new books she would not have found otherwise.

“It’s been an eye-opener for me,” Walker said. “I like that it carries me places. It shows me places I’ve never been. You wonder if other people have the same reaction you have. Then, it’s exciting, exciting to just read something.”

Joe Earle is a member of two book clubs.

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