The Bibliophiles, Inc.: An African American Reading Group

Founded in 1988, incorporated in 1990, The Bibliophiles, Inc.: An African American Reading Group was born out of a mutual interest in reading, sharing, promoting, and preserving the literature of the African Diaspora.

Toni Morrison’s award winning Beloved was the catalyst that drew together the founding members; two commuting colleagues who yearned to share the pent-up emotions the book evoked. The two quickly became ten, rapidly morphing into 20 as friends were invited to join the newly organized group.

Today, The Bibliophiles, Inc. are 19 women strong who include among their varied activities literary field trips, book signings, Kwanzaa celebrations, scholarship fundraisers, and the Newark Museum’s Special Exhibition Docent Program.

Our book club has been recognized in articles published in Essence, American Visions, and Emerge magazines, and The Sunday New York Times, The Star Ledger, and local newspapers. The Bibliophiles, Inc. has also been presented on New Jersey Network’s Another View, and hailed by The National Book Club Conference, Inc.

Almost 25 years later, The Bibliophiles, Inc. remains the oldest, continuously operating, incorporated Black Book Club in America.

September finds us identifying the next year’s theme that guides our selection of six books for the following year. Our regular meetings are held every other month in each other’s homes. Every odd year we convene for an off-site retreat week-end where we elect our officers, and rededicate ourselves to our mission. Members enthusiastically gather at our November meeting with book recommendations in tow; selections go to the highest vote.

BOOKS WE’D RECOMMEND FROM RECENT SELECTIONS:

Revered for our diverse range of selections across a variety of genres, including fiction, non-fiction, memoir and choreo-poetry, recommendations include:

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson; Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; Standing at the Scratch Line by Guy Johnson; The Man Who Cried I Am by John A. Williams; The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin; and The Wild Seed by Octavia Butler.

BEST FOR DISCUSSION:

Standing at The Scratch Line by Guy Johnson – a sweeping tale of family, honor, loyalty, and a Black man’s unwillingness to bend;

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson – an epic account of America’s untold story of the migration of 6 million Blacks from the South to the North and West in search of freedom and dignity;

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston – a seminal feminist work depicting a woman’s journey to self.

The Welcome Mat

The Welcome Mat

Our book club has achieved some renown in our community, and I find myself fielding several requests by others to join. I am not sure how to handle this and accepting new members into an established group can be tricky. How should I proceed? – Ellen

Congratulations on your successful book club and its “rep.” Are you noting the similarities between high school and book clubs?

But on to your new candidates. Establish with your group whether space is truly available for a new member or two. Some club members might feel the more the merrier; others may feel squeamish about anything new (“Wasn’t that basil plant on the other side of your kitchen the last time I was here?”). Mutually decide if you would like to invite the candidate to a future club meeting and if you do, be sure to send details about the book you will be discussing well in advance. If the candidate will be arriving alone, be sure to send overly specific directions.

Once you have observed the potential new member’s book club style, the group may discuss his or her potential merits, chemistry with the regulars, the authenticity of the person’s smile, aura or any other criteria you might have developed over the years, or suddenly last night. Remember, it is your club and you reserve the right to extend an invitation or add names to your ever-growing waiting list. But why not make “welcoming” the official position of the club?

Too Much Information

I participate in a couple of book clubs. In one, our professional facilitator selects interesting books, does extensive research, keeps the discussion moving and relevant to the book. There’s disagreement but not acrimony. But the other club I find especially annoying: the volunteer leader pulls voluminous material off the Internet, more often about the author than the book, and insists on reading it verbatim. Then another person designated to recommend the next book, circulates about five books for the group to look at while she makes her pitch for each of them prior to a vote. There is very little time devoted to actual discussion of the book. What should we do? – Dorothy

“Volunteer” can mean many things: selfless and tireless individuals who toil for a worthy cause (I’m looking at you, Lady Sybil Crawley). Others are well meaning, though if they insist on a public reading of the entire Internet, they are probably in need of a lot of attention.

Decide on the rules going forward: Ten well-researched minutes for the introduction of the fall of Rome, including the author’s bio; one hour (or a time to be determined by the group) for the discussion with everyone allowed to make a brief statement about the book. The last 15 minutes might be dedicated to new book selection but presenters must make a Pact of Conciseness. Pitches for P.D. James’s smashing best seller Death Comes to Pemberley,  incorporating exacting references to Mr. Darcy and his estate, or a book and movie re-visitation of The Help, leaving no character unturned, should be prepared well ahead of the meeting for maximum effectiveness.

Parking Regulations

I attend a wonderful book group at my branch library. The only problem is the parking lot – it is a madhouse at the time of my book club. It is held at a very busy branch that has also suffered through reduced hours. Lines for spaces are often 3 or 4 cars deep.  One time I watched a patron leave the library, go to her car, turn on the ignition … and then take out her cell phone and yak for about five minutes. Then she put on her lipstick!  Any advice? – Stamford, Ct.

Three brief applications of your car horn – works every time.

The Shelf Life of a Book Club

I am starting to feel as if my book club of 11 years has exceeded its natural shelf life. I am constantly finding excuses to stay home with my daughters and husband who have their own schedules, so family time is important. And BTW, I also work full time, travel for my job and sing in a Gospel choir. How can I confirm whether it’s time to move on? – Anonymous

Think about why you joined the club in the first place. Has it changed, or have you and your busy life? If you find yourself putting book club attendance somewhere between folding school play programs and cleaning out everyone’s sock drawers, it’s probably time to send out your email of farewell.

But in most cases, book clubs are like the Hotel California where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. And in the end, your club will most likely have you back if you decide you miss them, and you will.


The Club Column welcomes your book club questions. Please send your questions to: thebookclubshow@gmail.com.

Follow Diana Loevy on twitter: @Dianaloevy

Second Tuesday Book Club

Second Tuesday Book Club has been meeting in the back room of a small, independently-owned bookstore (The Bookloft) in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, since early 2011. Monthly meetings usually include 5-7 women from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, who learn about the group through the bookstore. We didn’t know each other prior to coming to the club, but our group (which continues to grow – until we cap it at 8 members) seems to bond effortlessly with each new member. We have inspiring, respectful exchanges about the books and how they relate to our own life situations.We look forward to choosing the book each month – an opportunity to hear what others want to read, and why they’re interested, and we allow ourselves to be persuaded occasionally to move outside our comfort zone. It helps to meet in the bookstore because we often bring in copies of our suggestions from the store’s shelves or consult with the staff, then discuss as a group in the last 15 minutes of our meeting. We normally choose contemporary fiction with an occasional nonfiction choice. Our reading list includes a few books that members did not like, but even if the club unanimously didn’t like a book, the substance of our discussions deepens a collective understanding of each other and what we hope to get out of both reading and meeting.

BOOKS WE’D RECOMMEND FROM RECENT SELECTIONS:
The Housekeeper and the Professor (Yoko Ogawa), Out Stealing Horses: A Novel (Per Petterson), Brooklyn: A Novel (Colm Toibin), The Help (Kathryn Stockett), Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro), The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)

BEST FOR DISCUSSION:

  • The Housekeeper and the Professor (Yoko Ogawa) Elegantly simple story of a relationship. Inspired a deep discussion about relationships, memory, and poignant stories from our own lives.
  • Lit: A Memoir (Mary Karr) Mixed reviews over a sometimes wild and exciting, at times slowly-moving memoir. Our conversation was intense and opinionated.
  • Out Stealing Horses: A Novel (Per Petterson) A quietly rich novel, respected by all. Members were impressed by the author’s style as character developed through reflective thought and memory.
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THE BOOK CLUB SHOW invites clubs to send a brief description of their reading group. We’re interested in learning more about what you’re reading and what books clubs have enjoyed discussing. Submit your Trending Books list.

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