Book club members demonstrated their enthusiasm during an April 9 snowstorm, when eight members of the monthly English adult book club showed up for their regular meeting at the Hawkesbury Library. Despite the heavy snow, members drove in from as far away as L’Orignal and Pointe-Fortune to discuss the group’s latest read.
Hawkesbury Library’s two adult book clubs, one English and the other French, have been in operation for more than a decade. The longest-standing current member of the English club has been with the group 11 years, while the newest member was attending her first meeting. The group has 14 active members, although not all attend every meeting.
This month’s read was Deafening, a 2003 novel by Frances Itani. Thérèse Bélanger-Dunsmore, who originally proposed the book, opened the discussion. Bélanger-Dunsmore explained why she selected Itani’s book, and described her impression of its themes of deafness, war, and tenderness. She also provided additional information about the historical context of the novel, set during World War I.
Discussion flowed for an hour as each person related their impressions of the book: what they had particularly liked and what they wished was different. The discussion branched out beyond the novel as the group explored tangential topics of history, politics, and the anti-vaccination movement. The easy camaraderie of the group was evident as members shared how elements of the book resonated with their personal experiences.
Member Eva Levesque enjoys these stimulating conversations prompted by the variety of books the club reads.
“The book club affords lively discussion, an exchange of ideas and points of view, continued learning, and social connection,” Levesque says. She adds that there’s no cost to book club members because the library hosts the group and arranges loans for the books.
Bélanger-Dunsmore finds the exposure to the variety of books the group reads an “enriching experience.”
“I enjoy the social and intellectual interaction at our meetings,” Bélanger-Dunsmore says.
“It adds different views about the story and extra knowledge, especially when we’re discussing a non-fiction book.”
The meeting ended after 90 minutes with a discussion about the books proposed for the coming year. The group is largely self-governing, and develops and votes on a list of books one year at a time. They choose from a variety of genres, and try to include one Indigenous title in their annual selections, and one suitable for February’s Black History Month. Once their list is compiled, library staff look after book orders through inter-library loan to ensure enough copies of each book arrived in the appropriate month.
French club follows their own model
The French adult book club at the Hawkesbury Library is similarly self-governing. But the French group, founded around the same time as the English one, chose not to follow traditional book club structure. Current member Patricia Laurin explains that when the group first formed, its members didn’t want to read from the same book each month, thinking discussions would become repetitive.
Instead, the French book club members adopted a “free style” strategy. Each person reads a book they’ve chosen for themselves. At the monthly meetings they each present their book and describe their impressions of it. This method, Laurin says, exposes their members to a greater number and variety of books, and they can choose which ones appeal to them.
Three times a year, the group does choose a book to read in common. Like the English group, they avoid choosing recently-released books because of the difficultly borrowing multiple copies of new books through interlibrary loan. Currently the group has 7 or 8 regular members, mostly women, and they welcome new members.
Although all the members of the French book club read in both French and English, they only choose French-language books for the club. Laurin notes that many books from Nordic authors are translated to French first, so the group is able to read those before they appear in English markets. The group enjoys reading a variety of books, including biography and history.
Laurin says she likes being introduced to new books and authors. She had studied French Literature, but found the book club opened up a new dimension of world literature. The group has made some pleasant discoveries as they explored books by Icelandic, Nordic, African, and Caribbean authors.
“I think we tend to keep choosing books and authors that are familiar to us,” says Laurin. “The variety of books discussed at the meetings gets us out of our comfort zones.”
The English Book Club at the Hawkesbury Library meets September to May on second Tuesdays at 2:00 pm. Their next meeting is May 14, when they will discuss Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. The French Book Club meets September to June on first Mondays at 2:00 pm. Their next meeting is Tuesday, May 7. For more information, contact the library at 613-632-0106, ext. 2250, or at www.bibliotheque.hawkesbury.on.ca.