‘Tale’ book discussions open minds, friendships

Saturday, February 6, 2010
By Ben Beagle bbeagle@batavianews.com

The enjoyment you get from reading a good book doesn’t have to end when you finish the last line. If you’ve been reading Garth Stein’s “The Art of Racing in the Rain” — or plan to — for this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” community reading project, consider attending one of the program’s upcoming book discussions.

BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE, Part 1 & Part 2 Get your own copy of this year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” book discussion guide here. ( it may take a few seconds to load.)

5 QUESTIONS: Here are five things to think about while reading “The Art of Racing in the Rain.”

Seventeen Tale book discussions are scheduled during the next month at libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. The first is set for 7 p.m. Monday at Yates Community Library, 15 North Main St., Lyndonville. Two more are scheduled Thursday at Corfu Free Library and Byron-Bergen Public Library. The discussions precede Stein’s March visits to each county for talks and booksignings. (Click here for book discussion schedule; and here for the schedule of author visits.)

“I just thought it would be fun to participate in such a large-scale adventure,” said Georgia Childs of Batavia, a regular at Richmond Memorial Library’s early-morning adult book club and who plans to attend her first Tale discussion this year.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is the story of Enzo, a dog, and his owner Denny, a professional race car driver with both personal and professional struggles to contend with. The novel is written from the perspective of Enzo, who is taking stock of his ife on the eve of his death.

Debbie Zauner of Corfu read “The Art of Racing in the Rain” in two nights. She says it was “not what I expected, but I absolutely love it.”

“I figured it would be about the special bond a dog and owner have and their relationship,” she said, expecting a book like “Marley and Me.” “But instead (I) found it to be so much more!”

Readers who regularly attend book discussions said they like the diversity of insights the participants share, often getting them to think about a point they may not have considered. They also like the social aspects of the reading group.

“To me, it’s important to feel connected to community,” said Liz Saleh of Corfu. “It eally does bring people together. I’ve met so many people that I didn’t know were such avid readers. It’s opened up the community even more. We see each other and say ‘Oh, I’m reading this book,’ or ‘I read that, too.’ ”

Saleh also appreciates the variety of stories Tale has chosen in its eight years. Last year’s Amish mystery, “Separate From the World” by P.L. Gaus, prompted Saleh to further explore Amish culture. She borrowed a documentary from the library, and read an additional half dozen or so works of Amish fiction.

“I’d never have done that without Tale for Three Counties,” she said. “They open up the mind and I feel like my horizons have been broadened. That, to me, is one of the most important things.”Zauner, who leads book discussions and author study units with students at Pembroke Primary School, joined the Corfu group to be able to talk with adults about adult books. The group’s variety of selections also got her away from reading the morbid, murder mysteries she had previously favored.

“I love the people in our group. We are all different ages and have experienced so many different things in life that brings so much to our discussions,” she said. “I look forward to seeing them each month and connecting with them and just hearing what they have to say. We make each other laugh and laughter is good for the soul.”

Some of the Tale libraries have multiple book groups that meet regularly. Others ay only host a discussion for the Tale book. And while attendance can vary from a handful of readers to a couple dozen, the discussions have much in common. They are informal gatherings. This isn’t a college study group, after all, but a group of people who have come together with a shared interest in reading.

“I always tell new people who experess interest in our group that it is a very informal and fun-loving group. They are welcome to join us even if they don’t care to contribution to the conversation, or even if they haven’t had time to finish the book,” said Stacey Anderson, director of Corfu Free Library, where membership in its group has increased significantly in the past year.

Often, discussion leaders provide themed refreshments or decorations. Nancy Bailey,director of Byron-Bergen Public library is planning to offer puppy chow mix for her program next week. (Don’t worry, it’s safe for humans. Basically it’s a couple of kinds of Chex cereal, peanut butter, melted chocolate, and powdered sugar mixed together.)

While patrons are encouraged to share their thoughts on the selected book, they are free to participate as much or as little as they want. Discussions typically follow the topics that the group is interested in.

“I tell them that they can come and just listen to what others had to say about the book,” said Nancy Bailey, director of Byron Bergen Public Library, Bergen. “Even if they didn’t like the book, I encourage them to come because they may see the bookin a different light after hearing what others saw in the book.”

The best discussions feature a leader who asks stimulating and open-ended questions and acknowledges different points of view, said Betsy Dexheimer of Batavia, who belong’s to Richmond’s early-morning group and has attended three previous Tale discussions.

“I might try to encourage a reluctant person to attend by noting that there is no one right interpretation of a book, and all opinions are valid,” said Dexheimer, who acknowledges that she has often changed her opinion of the books after listening to others.

Book discussions and author visits are not the only way to participate in “A Tale for hree Counties.”

Readers may also take part in a book review contest for a chance to win lunch with the author. This year, Tale organizers are asking readers to answer one of two questions: How did it make you feel to have a dog narrate the story? or Which “Enzoism” (Enzo’s favorite sayings) did you think was most essential to the story?

Stein will visit March 11 to 13 for a series of talks and booksignings in each county.

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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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