20 years of Book Club – Lessons Learned & A Cause for Celebration

In April of 2023, the Afternoon Book Club at the Barbara Bush Branch Library will celebrate 20 years of continuous meetings.  Without fail, on the fourth Thursday of every month for the last two decades, members have gathered to talk about that month’s book selection.  Hurricane Harvey diverted some of these sessions to an off-site location, and the pandemic converted some into virtual discussions, but the book club continued without interruption. Most of the books they have read are fiction, but the selection has always been a book chosen by a vote on one of the club members' suggestions.  

It’s no coincidence that the longest-attending member of the book club is also its founder.  Nancy Agafitei was the branch manager at the Cypress Creek Branch library in 1995 and explains the Book Club’s origins like this, “When I became the manager, one of my goals was to start an adult book club as a library service; However, the Cypress Creek branch had only one meeting room that was being used regularly for all children’s programs, for voting, and for other community programs. It was not available for a regularly scheduled monthly book club meeting.” 

But then the library expanded and rebranded... 

“In December of 2002, we were able to move next door into the re-named Barbara Bush Library that had three times the space and multiple meeting rooms. By April of 2003, we held the first Afternoon Book Club.” 

Although still attending every meeting, Nancy stepped down as the book club’s administrator in late 2017.  As the club’s current administrator, I wanted her thoughts on what makes the Afternoon Book Club so successful and enduring. 

“I think book clubs are as much about the people as they are about the books. Those who attended developed new friendships within the group, based on their shared love of reading, their intellectual curiosity to discuss what they read, and the genuine care for each other that grew out of these discussions.” 

What suggestions would you give to someone starting a Book Club? 

1) There is no one way to run a book club. Don’t worry if the group starts out small. Word of mouth and strategic publicity will attract people with similar interests (kind of books they like, time they can meet, their age/stage in life, etc.). 

2) Since the membership is fluid over time, make the atmosphere welcoming so it is easy for newcomers to join. Learn people’s names, so members feel a personal connection. Control the discussion so it stays on track, and everyone has a chance to participate. 

3) Everyone who comes has the benefit of reading the assigned book. The leader should occasionally provide some “added” benefit like a Zoom conversation with an author, a PowerPoint show of the history or art or symbolism in the book, or a video documentary or a movie excerpt related to the book. 

The members of the Afternoon Book Club, are a very welcoming bunch, and passionately opinionated about the books they read. The discussions can get lively, but I don’t think the members would have it any other way. Fortunately, there is a list of all 240 books they have read. Looking back on the list, it’s obvious they have had good taste with the occasional stinker. 

The first book read by the Afternoon Book Club in April of 2003 was “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett. Listed below are some other popular titles from their first year. 

HCPL branches host book clubs to suit almost any area of interest and age range--from Sci-Fi to Manga and many points in between. Find the book club that suits you: HCPL Book Clubs

Bel Canto

The Red Tent

Peace Like a River

Fahrenheit 451