Buncombe's oldest book club is as popular as ever

Barbara Hootman

The chosen book lies open in laps or is held at the ready for discussion.  The members of the oldest book club among Buncombe County public libraries are meeting to discuss “Boy, Snow, Bird” by Helen Oyeyemi.  The club meets at the Swannanoa Library at 6 p.m. on Thursdays every six weeks.

Retired librarian Marie Kaplan joins the discussion of a book at a recent  Swannanoa Library Book Club meeting.

Rob Neufeld, a historical columnist for The Asheville Citizen-Times and a well-known book reviewer, started the Swannanoa Library Book Club in 1995. He participated in the book club for several years. Retired librarian Marie Kaplan attended the first book club meeting. She's still coming and "enjoying every one of them,” she said.

By some estimates, some five million women and men of various ages meet every few weeks to discuss a book that they have chosen to share. It is difficult to establish a number for how many people are in book clubs, because some readers enjoy participating in several.  Book clubs are booming nationwide, with meetings in homes, bars, libraries and churches.

“We read absolutely everything,” Kaplan said.  “Well, I have to admit we don’t read fluff.  We read books that entertain and inform the reader, and then we discuss the book.”

The Black Mountain Library hosts the Barbara Kingsolver Book Club and the Mystery Book Club (call 250-4756 for the clubs' next meeting times).

Newcomers are always welcome at the Swannanoa Library Book Club.  A half dozen people attend the meetings, on average. The club holds the interests of two retired librarians and the current librarian Carla Hollar, who admits to liking westerns.  Other members vary in professions, but all love books and discussions about stories, characters and writers.

The club member who suggests the next book the group agrees to supplies the refreshments (usually cookies and drinks).

Recently, members discussed reading Diana Gabaldon’s  “Outlander,” one of eight books in the popular  “Outlander” series that Gabaldon wrote over the past 25 years. Hollar said she met Gabaldon when she visited Malaprops Bookstore in Asheville. “I was fascinated with how she took a dream and wove it into a best seller,” she said

Kaplan has spent most of her life in the company of books, and continues that enjoyment by attending the book club meetings and volunteering at the Swannanoa Library.

“I enjoy being with people who love reading and books as much as I do,” she said.  “It makes for good company and lively discussion.”

The Swannanoa Library Book Club members agreed that reading is a solitary act, but discussing the book and sharing questions and ideas with others who read the same book allow them to enter another world together.  A book club develops its power through shared thoughts.

The members of the Swannanoa Library Book Club share ideas freely and are not shy in questioning an author’s point of view, or a member’s opinion.

Members of the Swannanoa Library Book Club, Linda Hall (from left), Barbara Cough, Marie Kaplan and Carla Hollar discuss a book they have read.

Linda Hall has been attending the Swannanoa Library Book Club meetings since she retired in 2010.

“I love to read, and I always have, and I love to share my ideas and opinions about what I read,” she said.

Barbara Cough is another retired librarian who attends the book club.  She was the head librarian at the Black Mountain Library from 1990-2000.

“I like to read books that others are reading and find out what they think about it,” she said.  “I agree with others in this group that we learn a lot not only from the books we read, but from each other.”

Hall reads with a book club because “it helps me develop critical thinking, and sometimes discussing a book changes my mind about what I originally thought,” she said.  “I also like the book club because sometimes we read books that I normally would not select.  Discussing the book is as much fun as reading it.”

“This group of readers has a good mix of fiction and nonfiction in their book selections,” Hollar said.

Hollar keeps the next book  the club will read and the date of next meeting  at her desk at the Swannanoa Library.

“It usually takes only an hour for the book club to meet and discuss a book,” she said. “The members are prompt, arriving by 6 p.m. I usually unlock the library door and let everyone out by 7 p.m.  It seems to be a workable time frame for everyone.”