Reading From an Early Age
I have enjoyed reading books since I was a small child. My enjoyment began with my parents reading me bedtime stories from the Golden Book series, which were short stories printed in a hard-bound book with gold trim on the binding. During my middle school years it was Classics by Charles Dickens and contemporary fiction by Judy Blume. Once in high school and college I was introduced to African-American stories by Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison and Richard Wright. Today as a visually impaired adult I can still dig into a good read because books have always been a large part of my life. But it was not until a couple of years ago that I took my enjoyment of reading from a solitary ritual to a public discussion by joining a book club.
Looking for Ways to Socialize
When I lost my vision I was looking for ways to reconnect and socialize with others. I thought that joining a book club might be the way to achieve my goal. When I first started searching for a group, I quickly discovered that most were reading the recent best sellers. Since I was getting audio books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) that was not going to work for me. Typically any new books that are coming out to the general public can take several months to be available from NLS. Today, NLS has made advancements in their selection and new books are available much faster. Plus there are other options to get books such as through Bookshare, Audible.com or Amazon.com.
E-mail List Group Was First Book Club
Also, during this time I started attending local book signings at my community library. Even though the latest books they were promoting were not available to me it was good to get familiar with authors and the kinds of books they were writing. At one such event, a friend invited me to join his e-mail list book group. When I shared about my challenges getting access to newly released books, he told me that his group did not read new releases and also made sure that the book selections were available in audio. Each month books were chosen by the members to read through a vote. We would have a month to read the book before the e-mail discussion. Joining this group was a good idea because it solved two problems I was having at the time–not having access to the newly released book and having limited transportation to get to a physical book club discussion. For many years I was a member of this book club and not only found good books to read and discuss but new friends to socialize with. Some of us even met in person and attended two national book club conferences in Atlanta and New York City.
Created Book Club for the Blind
Shortly after joining the e-mail list group, my local vision rehabilitation center contacted me. I was asked to help create a book club for the blind. They were interested in starting a discussion for clients to help enhance literacy skills and build socialization. After a brief interview I was hired. Over the next several months I was responsible for recruiting participants. I also had to write lessen plans on how to select books, how to run a discussion and other topics. The goal was to get the group going, teach, train and then leave them to run the group on their own. To promote the group, I used my journalism and public relations skills to write articles for news publications and publicize the discussion group. I also worked very closely with our local talking book library to be sure that the books we selected were available to the visually impaired. Over the years the group continued, many books were read and new friendships were created.
Joined Visually Impaired Women’s Book Club
After getting the group set up and running on its own I moved on. I was still reading many books, discussing them with close friends and attending local book signings. Then about 4 years ago, some visually impaired girlfriends invited me to join their book discussion. We met as a small group in each other’s homes on Saturday afternoons, ate lunch, chit chatted and discussed great books. Three of the women were out of state and we used a speaker phone and conference called them in for the discussion. We created a book list calendar for the year; reading both fiction and non-fiction. That group dissolved and I was again on my own.
Joined Community Sighted Book Club
One day, I was reading my community library newsletter and saw an advertisement for a fictional book club. This group sparked my interest because they met locally at various restaurants. It was an opportunity for me again to read good books, meet new people and enjoy a great meal. I contacted the librarian and signed up. For the last few years I have been attending this discussion group and am the only blind participant. Every other month we meet to have dinner and discuss a book. The group is small and intimate averaging about 4-6 people. The restaurants are close to home and the book selection is vast and available to me in audio format. Depending on the book we are reading participants can vary so I get the opportunity to meet new people each time we meet.
Facilitate Talking Book Library Discussion Group
In addition to this book club, I facilitate the book discussion for Atlanta’s talking book library. We kicked off this group by participating in a county wide book discussion of Earnest Gaines’s book A Lesson Before Dying. Everyone enjoyed the discussion so much the library decided to make it a regular part of its services. Every few months or so we gather at the library on a Saturday afternoon to discuss books available through NLS. We also talk about local authors and attend book signings to show our support and bring awareness that visually impaired people do read.
Today there are so many different options to socialize and read great books. You can join blind and/or sighted book clubs. There are also on-line options like e-mail list groups, or using social media like Facebook and book club blogs. There are even websites like Good Reads where you can get book suggestions and join on-line book clubs. The opportunities are endless! So if you love reading and want to share that love with others like yourself, think about participating in a book club.
Let’s Talk About Book Clubs
Are you a member of a book club? Do you meet in person or on-line? Why did you decide to join? Let’s talk about book clubs in the comment section below.