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Senior Book Discussion Groups

By Barbara Adrianopoli, Director of Extension Services & Branches

Schaumburg Twp. (IL) District Library

I have learned over my thirty years in outreach that this job will prevent you from ever acquiring a big head.  This is especially true when you are dealing with our senior population either giving a book talk or coordinating a book discussion group.  How many times over the years have I heard, “Now, why did you think we would like this book?” or “I stopped reading the book after the first ten pages because I hated it!”  My first reaction is to say, “I don’t know.  I just stayed up until 4:00 a.m. reading the book because I knew you would hate it and I wanted to know why?”  Just kidding.

I have gone to other libraries’ web sites and noted their book choices, plus I have read Reading Group Choices and browsed best seller lists.  Sometimes the book I choose is a winner and sometimes the same book others have found to be great turns out to be a dismal failure.  Have you had the same experience?   

 Reading Groups vary not only in interests but also in ages.  One group may consist of seniors who meet the minimum age requirement of AARP and others have lived long and struggled so the book chosen often needs to be on the more leisure side and less thought provoking.  There are seniors who have physical problems holding a book or reading too long of a book.  Some find too many characters or too many themes to follow.  To select a book means you must know your audience. Since our library purchases the books in large print and rotates them among the various groups, and since the group is not charged for the book, I try to have few selections for just one group.  Otherwise, it depletes the budget too quickly.

 Some of the bits of wisdom I have learned are to make sure you have read the book before selecting it – even though others have found the book to be a perfect choice, it is might not be for your groups.  It helps also that the book can be downloaded or on a compact disc so those with disabilities are not left out.  I have one senior who loves her Kindle and another two who like me to download the book on their MP3 players.  Don’t select all of your books at the beginning of the year, as getting to know your group takes several selections.  Make sure you have a discussion sheet and some reviews included for your selection.  Often, the already printed discussion questions don’t fit your group or there are too many.  You need to fit discussion questions to your group.  It makes for good discussion and wonderful interaction.  So many times I am rewarded with discussions on the most personal level which have never been shared before but the person feels comfortable enough to discuss.  Books such as Breakfast at Sally’s and The Glass Castle brought forth people discussing their own homeless growing up or having parents or family members who suffered from mental illness.  Another thought provoking book for each of my groups was The Leisure Seeker, a novel by Michael Zakoorian.

This book can be a winner or people find the ending does not coincide with their value systems.  Many times I heard, “I liked it until the end.”  But in the end, it is the seniors making a choice which may or may not be what the children want.  I won’t give away the ending. For this book I also added information regarding laws in our several of our states as well as customs from other countries.  Old standby authors such as Garrison Keilor’s novels and Jennifer Chiaverini’s quilt books have always received good reviews.

Sometimes even the hardest group does not mind learning about the countries in the news.  Three Cups of Tea allowed the seniors to learn about another tradition as well as giving a different slant to their news hour.  I will see how I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced is received.  Since the news has been focusing on Yemen the seniors will have a chance to learned about this country from the words of a young child bride in Yemen.

 I will end with a quote from Francis Bacon:

 "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be
chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts,
others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly,
and with diligence and attention."
~ Francis Bacon ~

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