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Women's National Book Association to Launch Reading Group Month

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About a year ago, I caught book group fever. An avid reader, I had never been part of a book group. I listened wistfully to friends' recounting of lively conversations over shared meals, envying the breadth of titles discussed by readers expert in a wide variety of subjects. It was time to right my non-book group status. I e-mailed friends suggesting a first read: Norman Fischer's Sailing Home - Using the Wisdom of Homer's Odyssey to Navigate Life's Perils and Pitfalls.

Our idea was to read the book slowly -- one chapter at a time. Reading the book in this deliberate way has catapulted us deeply into Fischer's ideas and philosophy. It has also created a safe place to discuss life challenges as diverse as fear, aging, sexual desire, and financial success -- and ruin.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who has joined a book group recently. In the last five years, the book club population has increased 25%, rising from 4.6 million to 5.2 million adults. The average book club member reads 36 books per year. Only 12 of those are book club suggestions. (The average American reads 5 books per year.)

National Reading Group Month, (NRGM) is the innovation of sisters Martha Burns and Alice Dillon, Women's National Book Association (WNBA) members and the authors of Reading Group Journal: Notes in the Margin (Abbeville Press). In 2006, Burns and Dillon approached WNBA leadership to partner in creating a month dedicated to book groups. Seeing that WNBA's raison d'etre is everything books, we enthusiastically embraced the NRGM concept.

In its nascent state, Dillon and Burn's goal was to promote the joy of shared reading by creating a literary month modeled after "National Poetry Month." Two years later, National Reading Group Month has become a highly anticipated event during which readers find and start book groups and book groups find each other, learning about trends and facilitation ideas.

To kick off the 2009 NRGM, over 200 book lovers gathered at Southern Festival of Books in Nashville on Saturday October 10. Authors Holly Goddard, Marie Brenner, Inman Majors, Kathryn Stockert and WNBA Award Winner, Dr. Perri Klaas appeared at a breakfast emceed by Nina Cordona, NPR Nashville's host of "All Things Considered."

Over the next month, all ten chapters of WNBA will participate in NRGM. New York, Washington, Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle as well as the New Jersey Library Association have events planned to bring readers up close and personal with authors whose books they have long admired and discussed.

Forty authors are on deck to participate in readings, panel discussions and meet-and-greet receptions nationwide. Featured authors include: Lisa Genova (Still Alice, Pocket Books); Katherine Howe (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Hyperion); Margot Livesey (The House on Fortune Street, HarperPerennial). Laura Kasischke (In a Perfect World, HarperPerennial). Dixie Cash aka Pam Cumbie and Jeffery McClanahan (Curing the Blues with a New Pair of Shoes, HarperCollins/Avon A), Eva Hoffman (Appassionata, Other Press); C.M. Mayo (The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, Unbridled Books); Julie Metz (Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, Voice/Hyperion); Roxana Robinson (Cost, Picador); Anne Roiphe (Epilogue: A Memoir, HarperPerennial).

What we've discovered these past two years is that book groups are to reading what slow food is to the food industry. In this fast paced world, book groups give people a chance to connect, join in community and listen and learn in intimate environments.

This month, we will report in this space on national events, highlights and book group news. Please write to WNBA at susannahgreenberg@bookbuzz.com and tell us your book group stories.