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Grand Rapids Public Library covers a lot of ground in book clubs, both geographically and topically

GRPL leads the Reading the Great Lakes and #ReadSoHard book clubs. Each of them features books from a variety of settings, genres and subjects to open up spaces for discussion among readers.
The Grand Rapids Public Library selects interesting and unexpected books for Reading the Great Lakes and #ReadSoHard book clubs.

The Grand Rapids Public Library selects interesting and unexpected books for Reading the Great Lakes and #ReadSoHard book clubs. /Carly Schweppe

Book Club Meetings

Reading the Great Lakes Book Club

Main Library 

111 Library St. NE

Grand Rapids, MI 49503


#ReadSoHard Book Club

Harmony Hall

401 Stocking Ave. NW

Grand Rapids, MI 49504

David Giffels' "The Hard Way on Purpose" is the current book for the Reading the Great Lakes book club.

David Giffels' "The Hard Way on Purpose" is the current book for the Reading the Great Lakes book club. /Used with permission from the Grand Rapids Public LIbrary

Patricia Highsmith's "Strangers on a Train" is the current book for the #ReadSoHard book club.

Patricia Highsmith's "Strangers on a Train" is the current book for the #ReadSoHard book club. /Used with permission from the Grand Rapids Public Library

As the leaves continue to fall and the nights become a little longer, patrons can check out two different book clubs at the Grand Rapids Public Library—one in which readers travel around the Great Lakes through selected books and one that explores subjects readers in their 20’s and 30’s will find especially relevant. Both groups are open to anyone searching for a good read.

One of the book clubs is called Reading the Great Lakes. All of the books chosen for discussion relate to the Great Lakes. The books are set in the area that borders Lakes Michigan, Huron, Erie, Ontario and Superior. The Great Lakes region reaches everything nearby from Grand Rapids to Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Toronto and all the places in between.

According to Julie Tabberer, the head of GRPL’s History and Special Collections department, the Lakes series fits well with the incredible amount of local history materials available at the library and that there’s just something different about the Great Lakes region compared to the east coast, west coast and down south.

“I feel a strong sense of that hometown and homestate pride and I like to support and read authors that are local,” Tabberer said. “But it also just makes you think about your home in a different way. I think you can see things about your own city or own state or area that you wouldn’t think about sometimes unless you read and really thought about it through these books.”

The series spans a variety of genres—novels, nonfiction, short stories, graphic novels and poetry. Previous books in the series have been authored by Jim Harrison, Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, John Updike, Margaret Atwood and J.D. Salinger. And there are dozens of other writers, some you may have heard of and some who will be brand new.

“One thing I really like about it is that I’ve heard people say this gets me reading books I would have never read before,” Tabberer said.

The current book in Reading the Great Lakes is “The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt” by David Giffels. This book will take readers over to Akron, Ohio where Giffels examines ideas of identity and place in his hometown, an area that’s been declining for decades. The book club discussion for “The Hard Way on Purpose” will be at the Main Library on November 3 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

At book club meetings, which take place once a month, GRPL librarians lead discussion about the current book. People can expect to talk with regulars and newcomers with certainty that everybody will bring in different backgrounds and perspectives about the story. Thinking through the book with others can bring up things people didn’t consider when they read as an individual.

“I like to just ask ‘Hey, did you guys like this book or did you not like it?’” Tabberer said. “During the last one we read, ‘The Turner House,’ one woman said ‘Eh, didn’t really like it that much’ and then at the end of the discussion she said ‘Wow, I think I missed a lot in that book. I learned a lot through this discussion. I like it a lot more now.’”

And the same goes for the #ReadSoHard book club, another GRPL reading series, which meets once a month at Harmony Hall. Read So Hard is intended for people in their 20’s and 30’s, but welcomes everybody.

“They pick edgy, topical books to discuss,” Tabberer said. “Ones that are really interesting and unique that kind of speak to what society is looking at and what we’re all thinking about and discussing.”

Upcoming books include “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson, “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and “Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari.

The current read is “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith, a psychological thriller that Alfred Hitchcock famously adapted into a film in 1951. The #ReadSoHard book club will meet for a discussion of the novel at Harmony Hall on November 14 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Tabberer said that the mission of the Grand Rapids Public Library is to connect people to the transforming power of knowledge and that books can be very transformative, even more so when people discuss them together.

Anybody interested in Reading the Great Lakes or #ReadSoHard should stop by the library to pick up a copy of one or both of the featured books in print or audiobook form. eBooks can also be downloaded on the library’s Overdrive

“If anyone’s on the fence about coming, just come even if you didn’t read the whole book or maybe you didn’t read it at all,” Tabberer said. “Just give it a try. People are really welcoming and inviting. I think you’ll walk away feeling like it was a good place to be, you connected with people and you learned something.”

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