Photography by MICHAEL SCHALK
ROBIN GRENCHIK’S BOOK CLUB has been meeting for 15 years. Long enough that the books they’ve read — 75 in total — are starting to run together. One particular book club gathering does stand out to her though.
“Oh gosh, what year was there a hurricane coming, but we had book club anyway?” she tries to recall, laughing. “It was one of those Savannah situations, where you’re not sure the hurricane is actually going to hit. But [we] had already planned the menu and set a beautiful table — who wants to waste that?”
That day, six of the eight members attended and, luckily, the hurricane went the other way.
The friends named their club “The Best Little Book Club Ever,” or BLBCE for short. The group, formed organically through a shared love of books, meets every two months and rotates hosts among the group. The host decides on the book, which encourages other members to expand their literary taste buds.
“We’re all over the board in terms of reading preferences,” Grenchik says. “One of our members always picks autobiographies, and some of our members like historical novels. We have members from France, Sweden and England, and they all tend to pick novels that you wouldn’t hear that much about in the States.”
“When it’s your turn to pick a book, you put a lot of thought into it and sometimes it’s a big hit and everybody loves it and other times not so much,” says Helen Iocovozzi, another member of BLBCE. “But it always leads to intense and lively discussions.”
Often the discussion becomes so lively that multiple members are speaking at once. For these discussions, the BLBCE has devised a tool to get the conversation back on track.
“We were at Allison Rhangos’ house and she went into her son’s room and got a toy hippo with his mouth wide open,” says Grenchik. “Now if it’s getting overanimated, and we’re not hearing each other talk, then we pass the hippo with the big mouth to the person speaking, and until that person passes it on, that person gets to finish their thought.”
The ladies of BLBCE put just as much effort into the discussions as they do in hosting, often making dinner and drinks inspired by the book’s plot, setting or characters. Their most recent read, “Witches” by Brenda Lozano, was hosted at Rhangos’ home and inspired not only a lavish Mexican dinner, but also ties into an upcoming trip to Mexico for a few members of the group.
BLBCE is so tight knit, they’ve decided not to accept any new members. For them, the books are almost secondary to the bonds they’ve formed over the years.
“I just love every one of these girls,” Grenchik says. “They’re all so smart and compassionate, and it’s just a genuinely fabulous group. I’m a big reader and I love to discuss books, but the reason I’m so into this group is because of who’s in it and our relationships with each other.”
AT E. SHAVER BOOKSELLER, book clubs were a way for the store to reconnect with the local community.
“When I first came to work here, we didn’t have a ton of local business at that point,” says Melissa Taylor, who co-owns the store with Jessica Osborne. “Locals had stopped coming downtown, and we saw mostly tourists in the shop. Part of having the book clubs was reminding our local community that we were there and really engaging with them.”
Today, E. Shaver Bookseller hosts seven different clubs, and Taylor says their local customers appreciate having a space to connect with each other. Cindy Dixon, an English teacher at Richmond Hill High School, was looking for community when she joined an E. Shaver’s book club six years ago.
“In a world where people don’t agree on much, it’s always nice to find someone who loves something you love, too,” Dixon says. “Even if it is just a book.”
Dixon is a member of E. Shaver’s Tequila Mockingbird group, a subscription-based book club that pairs classics with unique beverages. The group was inspired by the book “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist” by Tim Federle.
Some drinks are a hit: one of Dixon’s favorite pairing was a “Tender is the Nightcap” cocktail paired with “Tender is the Night” by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other pairings left much to be desired.
“We read ‘The Call of the Wild,’ ‘White Fang,’ and some other short stories by Jack London,” says Taylor. “And the drink was ridiculous. There was a Klondike bar melting in it.”
E. Shaver also has a club dedicated to graphic novels, Jane Austen, mystery, romance novels and young adult, as well as the FOMO (fear of missing out) book club, which only reads new releases. In every club, it’s the conversation and friendship that brings people back.
“I’ve been teaching English for 32 years, so I’ve read a lot and taught classics, but not all of them,” Dixon says. “[The club] does force me to read books I haven’t read, and it is nice to talk with adults about books, instead of always teaching them.”
Any local bibliophiles looking to join a club can check the schedule on E. Shaver’s website. Book club members get 20% off if purchasing the book at E. Shaver, but Taylor says it’s not required.
“You can get it from the library, or if you have it at home already, that’s certainly fine,” she says. “We just want people to come together, talk about books and build community through that shared interest.”
CECILIA ARANGO has been an avid reader since college.
“My moment of Zen is to curl up on the couch with a book in my hand,” says Arango. “It’s an escape into another world. Whenever I close a book that I absolutely love, I’m immediately hungry to discuss it with somebody else.”
Often, she found herself discussing her current reads with her running group as they trained for local marathons. In 2015, Arango decided to make it official and started the Read, Run & Rant book club.
The group meets every third Sunday at 7 a.m. Members take an hour for walking or running, then convene at a nearby coffee shop to discuss that month’s book. It’s a far cry from the wine and cheese plates that are usually associated with book clubs, but Arango says the format suits the group.
“Last year, we experimented with reading all local authors or authors coming to town, starting with Will Leitch, who wrote ’How Lucky,’” Arango says. “A friend of a friend knew him, and so they reached out to him and found out he and his wife also run. They actually met up with us on a run!”
Now, Arango says, Read, Run & Rant is going back to picking books by what comes up organically in their coffee shop conversations. All bibliophiles can agree: a discussion about a book can often lead to an even deeper conversation about life. For Arango, that’s the beauty of a book club.
“Hearing all the different takes on the book opens your eyes to how other people view the world,” she says. “I’ve learned so much about our regulars that come based on what aspects of the book call out to them or what similar experiences they’ve gone through.”
Read, Run & Rant is a public book group; interested readers and runners can find them on Facebook.
TIPS FOR HOSTING YOUR BEST BOOK CLUB EVER
Consider a theme. Will your group read only award-winning novels? Or will you be more niche and read only autobiographies by famous actresses?
Create a diverse invite list. A book club can be a great way to keep in touch with busy friends or meet more people. Choose guests who are game for a friendly debate.
Finish the book. Yes, really! Your discussion will be much more interesting if everyone has read cover to cover.
Snacks are always welcome. You can go all out and match your snacks with the theme of the book.
Bring discussion starters. When the conversation lulls or starts to drift away from the text, having a question prepared can help bring it back to the book.