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Hello Reader!

One way to expand your reading this year: Join a reading club.

I'm not talking about that book club with your best friends where everyone sips drinks and chitchats about spouses, jobs and children. Those are fun and you should definitely do those, too, because I always will support centering your social life on books. But I'm talking about finding people who will not only read the selected book, but also want to talk — maybe even argue — about it. Join a collection of readers. 

The Mercantile Library made me understand how powerful a reading community can be. The Mercantile is a private library, founded in 1835, and Executive Director John Faherty likes to say its members are the people in your book club who actually read the book. It offers a variety of discussion groups, some specific, some not. There's the Walnut Street Poetry Society and The Canon Club, which has read all of Shakespeare. And on the first Wednesday of each month, a rotating collection of members lead conversations about a variety of books. The first time I went, I was a bit intimidated; I knew no one. But the discussion was interesting, and so I came back for another and another. A year later, I still don't know everyone at every First Wednesday because people jump in and out as their schedules and reading lives change. The variety of people and books and the focus on the single thing we have in common — we all love reading — is why I like it. 

So, how do you find reading clubs? Get to your local library and/or independent bookstore. Most public libraries have one or more book clubs. Find out the next selection and jump in. Check the nearest independent bookstore, too. Mine has book club selections on a dedicated shelf, but if you can't find that easily, ask a bookseller. 

Walking into a roomful of strangers to share your opinion about a book is a pretty big task. But really, all you have to do at first is walk in. Just walk in and listen. You'll find sharing your thoughts gets easier as you know the group dynamic better — or when they hit on the part of a book you really loved or hated. In the meantime, whether you're sitting there silently or even missing a meeting entirely, you're still reading new books. 

If you can't find a reading club, create one. 

If you follow me on social media, you might have seen that this week a dozen of my neighbors — some I knew, some I didn't — met me at our local coffee shop to talk about books. Following a summer of successful community clean-ups and events, a few friends and I wanted to find a way to keep our civic-minded momentum going over the winter. I, believing reading helps with all tasks, suggested a community-themed book club, and was pleasantly surprised when people agreed. We didn't all love our first book, This Is Where You Belong, but we had a lively discussion about why porches are the best and how frustrating it is when authors cherry-pick statistics. 

In addition to my community-themed readers group, I'm running a group discussion this spring at the Mercantile. The New American Lit group will discuss four modern books — Sing, Unburied, Sing; Lila, Redeployment, and Crazy Rich Asians — in conjunction with the classics that inspired them. We'll read a short story from Faulkner with Ward's latest, for instance. I'll also lead a First Wednesday discussion on Little Fires Everywhere, and participate in more. 

See if your library will help you start a book club. Mine has a special book club card that lets you check out collections. Building a book club around a theme can help keep the group on task and also bring in people beyond your usual social circle. Advertise on the library or bookstore bulletin board. Put up a Facebook event. Ask a friend, and then have the friend bring a friend. Be willing to read with strangers.

Happy reading!

— Hillary

Reading Links

Recent favorite: The Changeling, Victor Lavalle 
Described as a fairytale, it certainly includes some fantastic elements. But Lavalle has written a novel that is more than "once upon a time." He makes some wickedly smart observations about modern culture and creates characters you can feel. 

Up Next: Made for Love, Alissa Nutting 

Read Harder Challenge: Ghost, Jason Reynolds
This was the first book in a new-to-me middle grade series. From the way my son and his friends devoured Jason Reynolds' books, I knew the accolades he'd been wracking up were deserved. I flew through it, too, pulled along by quick plotting and strong, realistic dialogue.

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Real-life reading:
Squeezing books into every free minute

Erin is a working mom of two who likes talking books almost as much as reading them. Thanks to a shift in how she approached audiobooks, she crushed her original 2017 reading goal of 35 books and ended up finishing 62 books last year!

Audiobooks have made up about half of her reading life for the last few years, but last year, as she began finding more and more times to plug in and listen, Erin realized she was three, four, five books ahead of pace, according to the Goodreads Reading Challenge Tracker. She kept bumping up and surpassing her goal all year. Now, Erin has big plans for 2018 and shared some audiobook advice with us. 

What services do you use to access and listen to audiobooks? 
Mostly Audible, but I also love and use my library’s Hoopla app, and occasionally Overdrive.

When do you listen? 

I used to only listen in the car — I commute about 40 minutes, both ways, on good traffic days. Now, if I have more than 10 minutes and nothing else is demanding my full attention, I am probably listening. 

This is the biggest change I made in 2017, and probably why I blew through last year’s goal. I listen o
n my commute, during walks/runs, while I'm cooking, getting ready in the morning, doing chores, grocery shopping — pretty much anytime I am doing mindless busywork. 

Does listening feel different to reading? How so? 
Sometimes the narration can really add something. Sometimes it can also really take away. The narrator is key, and I am picky. With memoirs, I almost always prefer audio. I love hearing the author in their own voice. Literary fiction is where I get the most picky. I can’t deal with bad accents or monotone deliveries. 

I still love reading a physical book. It’s a totally different experience, though, and not one I have as much time for. I like to cuddle up on the couch and settle in for a long while with a hardback. I can’t dip in for 10 minutes in between making dinner and kid bath time. It’s a different headspace for me. 

What advice do you have to someone just starting to use audiobooks? 
Pick something you can’t wait to get your hands on. Mysteries/thrillers are a great place to start. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty, was my first Audible download, and I found myself not wanting to get out of the car because COME ON LET’S GET TO TRIVIA NIGHT ALREADY! 

Listen to a sample of the narrator to make sure their voice doesn’t bug you.

If the narration feels plodding, speed up the audio. (I almost always listen at 1.25x speed. Not so fast that it sounds manic, but a little bit quicker than the standard pace.)

Favorite audiobook? 
Ever? Ooh, that’s tough. I really, really loved A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles, narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith. It started a little slow, but once I was in it, I was IN IT. And I immediately restarted it after I finished it. 

Favorite narrator? 
Scott Brick does a fabulous job with a whole range of character voices. I’ve also listened to several read by Imogen Church, and I just love her. 

What is your reading goal for 2018? What percentage will be audiobooks? 
This year my goal is 75 books! I think the percentage will probably be similar to last year — 50 percent or greater on audio. I’m also working through my backlog of Kindle books. (I’ve one-clicked way too many Kindle deals.)
Housekeeping note:
I am not paid for any reviews or opinions. I use Amazon affiliate links all through this newsletter,
which means I get a very small financial benefit if you use the links to buy books.
Any money I earn through affiliate links likely will be spent on more books. 
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