Book lovers are never alone:

There are 170 book groups registered with Bloomsbury books in Ashland. That is just registered groups. Imagine how many others there are in Ashland alone. This is a book-loving town.

Several years ago, I belonged to a book group and it was a lot of fun. It wasn't the high-minded literary salon I'd envisioned, thank goodness, but it was delightful. Our conversations often veered off the book, but we usually found our way back. I enjoyed books I never would have picked on my own, and made new friends in the process. Still, it was sometimes like college homework. Hours before the group met, I would often end up trying to speed-read the last few chapters, as if cramming for a test.

Maggie Javna, who belongs to a book group in Ashland, has belonged to other book groups over the years, sometimes more than one at the same time. She advises those looking for a group to consider their schedules and their own personalities. "Figure out what you want from a group. Try to find like-minded people, people interested in books you are interested in, but don't be too narrow. It is also wonderful to get exposed to a diversity of books. You may find yourself surprised to enjoy a book that you hadn't considered," said Javna.

Joining a book group or starting one in Ashland won't be too hard. Both Bloomsbury and the Ashland public library have a good deal of resources and incentives. In addition to the registry that includes open groups, Bloomsbury offers a 25% discount on book-group selections for those registered. The bookstore also has a number of recommended book-group books and guidelines for more organized folks.

The library has a selection of reference books and online databases that offer advice for starting a group or reinvigorating an existing one. It also has several books with lists of popular book group choices over the years. Even without a book group these lists are entertaining in themselves. They usually have author biographies, reviews and discussion questions. My favorite was called "Reading Group Choices: Selections for Lively Book Discussions." It's actually more than most people need, but it can be helpful if you are new to book groups. The books listed in the slim volumes are not always best sellers but they have something for every interest. According to the introduction on the 2005 volume, the books on the list are recommended by a variety of sources and reviewed for "discussability." The library also has books to recommend in specific genres such as mystery or romance.

While book groups are a great opportunity to indulge a literary love and meet new people, they can also be a nightmare of conflicting schedules, tastes, and personalities. Several people I spoke with shared book group horror stories that included screaming matches and tears. There are even groups that hire professional facilitators to move along the discussion and mediate arguments. While that is not the norm, Javna does admit to occasional difficulties. "But that wouldn't stop me ever from joining one. I do love books and I do love the social aspect. Book groups push me to read things I wouldn't normally read and allow me to meet people I may not have otherwise met," she said. "I love books and love sharing them with people," she added.

That's the beauty of a book group. They are surprising in so many ways. You may discover that science-fiction isn't as bad as you thought it was, or that your group isn't the heady, intellectual scene you imagined. But it's a sure bet you'll have fun, meet nice people and when the meeting is over, leave content.

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