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Book clubs connect readers in Summit County

KEELY BROWN
Special to the Daily

Summit County, CO Colorado

After a long day running the Huneck Gallery on Main Street in Breckenridge, there’s nothing that Jamie Light likes better than to curl up between the covers of a good book ” especially if she’s among friends.

That’s why, once a month, Light heads down the street to Hamlet’s Bookshoppe, where she’s sure of an evening of stimulating socializing.

“It’s a nice place to share intelligent conversation with other people,” Light said. “I enjoy getting together with that diverse group of people and finding common interests. Sometimes I’ll even meet with a couple of friends for cocktails first, and then we’ll head on over to our book club. It’s part of my schedule every month.”

For those with a passion for reading and good conversation, book clubs have become an increasingly popular way to pass the hours after work. The book club at Hamlet’s Bookshoppe has been going on for four years now, thanks to owner Diane Monteil, who bought the store two-and-a-half years ago and decided to continue the club, due to popular demand.

“People were asking to continue it,” she said. “When I came here, people were telling me that they love having this place to come to, where they can sit around and talk about books.”

Monteil said that it’s become the standard now for most good bookstores to have a book club ” not only for reasons of community, but also for revenue.

“Oprah Winfrey has a lot to do with the popularity of book clubs now, because of the book club she started on her show,” she said. “As soon as she mentions the book she’s chosen, that same afternoon people will come in the store and ask for it ” so we order a lot of copies.”

Monteil and her staff choose their book club selections one month at a time, paying close attention to reader requests and the current bestselling lists, as well as their own experience.

“We try to come up with a book that’s going to be a ‘good read’ for our readers ” something we think our group would like,” she said. “We use our own knowledge, and then listen to what our customers are telling us. And we really run the gamut, from biographies and memoirs to fiction and classics.”

Hamlet’s book club is open to anyone in the community, with no fees, no requirements, and ” most important for a ski resort town full of transient traffic ” no commitments.

“We like to call ourselves a ‘no-commitment club,” Monteil said. “We do have a core group that comes in every single month, but we also are open to the second homeowners when they’re in town.”

And because it’s a “just-show-up-when-you-can” type of club, Monteil said that no one ever has to apologize for not being there. Attendance ranges anywhere from eight or nine people all the way up to 25 on a given month; and if there’s a guest speaker, such as a well-known author, attendance can go as high as 150 people.

During club meetings, Monteil starts off by giving background information on the book and its author. After that, the floor is open to anyone.

“We spend an hour talking about the book ” just general impressions of what people experienced by reading it,” she said. “We look at the themes and the strong characters.

“And the conversation just flows,” she added, “because people will transfer what’s happening in the book to their own lives. You can always personalize what’s going on.”

Although the Hamlet’s book club is decidedly not a coffee klatch, the store does provide wine and snacks, and members often show up with additional appetizers as well.

“It’s a very laid-back atmosphere,” Monteil said. “But it’s important that we honor the book, and that’s where the focus is.”

Club members include people from all walks of life and levels of education, ranging in age from the early 20s to the late 60s. Monteil said that her members include everyone from recent college grads to retirees, all having one thing in common ” a passion for books.

Recent selections for Hamlet’s book club include Augusten Burrough’s provocative autobiography “Running with Scissors,” and Harper Lee’s classic “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Coming up this month is a biography of Teddy Roosevelt, “Mornings on Horseback,” by renowned historian David McCullough.

According to Monteil, sometimes the best discussions are about books that not everyone particularly liked.

“We’ve picked some hard reads, such as “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll ‘up’ the challenge for everyone, in order to make for a great discussion.”

Monteil said that the book that touched her ” and many club members ” the most in recent months was Markus Zusak’s portrait of Nazi Germany, “The Book Thief,” which moved her so deeply that she had trouble even discussing it during that month’s meeting.

“The best books touch us on such a deep level, they have the power to change us,” she said.

Meanwhile, over at Weber’s Books in Breckenridge, a new club is being started by store marketing manager Larry Ebersole, who got the ball rolling by asking his regular customers if they would be interested in meeting once a month. Encouraged by the response, Ebersole decided to hold an inaugural meeting in February, where the entire group can make the monthly selections for the coming year.

Ebersole plans to split up the meetings so that, for the first 45 minutes, everyone can talk about whatever book they happen to be reading and enjoying. Afterward, the last half of the meeting will be devoted to that month’s featured book.

“That way, people who are staying here for just a few weeks and have grabbed a great book can talk about it, without feeling like they don’t belong or that they’re not part of the group,” he said. “We want to incorporate the part-time residents as well as the vacationers, who aren’t necessarily going to read the chosen book that month, but who have something else they’re reading that they’d like to talk about.”

As for book selection, Ebersole said that his main priority is in finding books that his club members will enjoy reading.

“A good book doesn’t have to be complicated or overly intellectual,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll have people who want to go in that direction ” but a lot of people come here to get away, and when I’m on vacation, I always take along a book I can enjoy as well as identify with.”

Ebersole, who belongs to an online book club, said that blogging and e-mailing are simply not the same thing as participating live in a friendly environment.

“Online clubs are a good way to find out initially if you’re interested in joining a book club, but then afterward you miss that actual interaction, that sense of community you get with people sitting there next to you, drinking coffee and talking about books,” he said.

With both Hamlet’s and Weber’s clubs, one deciding factor may take the pressure off of potential new members uncertain whether or not to join ” you don’t lose brownie points or get kicked out if you don’t happen to finish the book.

“I don’t want it to be a burden for anyone,” Ebersole said. “I want the club meetings to be something that people can look forward to every month.”

– The inaugural book club meeting at Weber’s Drawing and Books takes place Tuesday, February 6 at 7:00 p.m. For more information, go online at http://www.webersbooks.com or call (970) 453-4723. Weber’s Books and Drawings is located at 100 S. Main St, Breckenridge.

– The book club at Hamlet’s Bookshoppe meets the second or third Thursday every month at either 7 or 7:30 p.m. For more information, go online at http://www.hamletsbooks.com or call (970) 453-8033. Hamlet’s Bookshoppe is located at 306 South Main Street, Breckenridge.


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