Catching feelings at Book Club Speed Dating

Finding the right read for your book club can feel a little bit like dating sometimes. You go through a bunch of duds before finding the right fit. Sometimes your friends are helpful but other times… not so much (looking at you, Friend Who Tried Setting Me Up With Someone Who Hates Cats).

The whole thing is messy, but at least with books we can make it a little easier. Behold: Book Club Speed Dating. It’s like regular speed dating, but with books, which is way less awkward. The Book Squad (along with fab folks from the Raven and The Dusty Bookshelf) recently put on our third Book Club Speed Dating event.

Imagine this: You’re at Maceli’s downtown, chilling at a table with your book club buds. You’ve got snacks, you’ve got a cash bar, and — best of all — you’ve got books. After a little intro spiel, a nice book wizard (from either LPL, the Raven, or The Dusty Bookshelf) comes up to your crew, armed with four suggestions. A bell rings — DING! — and suddenly the book wizard launches into an enthusiastic pitch for each of the books, sometimes with hand gestures. Five minutes later, and — DING! — your book wizard moves on to another table, and a new one takes their place.

Rinse, repeat, ding, until you hear all eight fabulous folks talk about their books. It’s a lot of fun, and you don’t even have to get up (unless you want a refill)! By the end of the night, you walk away with a list of 32 hand-picked book club suggestions and some free Advanced Reading Copies of books that we give out just for fun.

In case you weren’t able to make it this time around, I want to share a few of the latest book club in a bag (BCIAB) kits that I am super pumped about, as well as a list of all the BCIAB titles we’ve ever presented on at a Book Club Speed Dating event.

"The Book of the Unnamed Midwife" (BCIAB | individual book) In the near future, a fever wipes out the majority of the world’s population, hitting women and children the hardest. Rates of infant mortality and maternal death skyrocket to nearly 100%. As a result, women become a rare and valuable commodity, often kept away from others in “protection,” or enslaved for their… services. (Super uplifting, right? It gets better.) A nurse somehow survives this fever and makes it her mission to travel the country, distributing contraceptives to any woman she finds. In order to do so, she must dress and live as a man. What results is a thrilling dystopia that questions assumptions about gender, community, religion, and self-protection.

"All My Puny Sorrows" (BCIAB | individual book | Hoopla) My best friend told me about this book, and it’s quite possibly the only book that has taken me from sobbing to laughing uncontrollably within just a couple pages. Two sisters, Elf and Yoli, love each other very much but want very different things — namely, Elf is a world-famous concert pianist who wants desperately to end her life, and Yoli is trying her damnedest to keep her alive. Miriam Toews is a masterful writer of this novel, and she really does a great job balancing a deeply personal and sad topic with the dark humor that we all need at times to just keep going.

"Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" (BCIAB | individual book | Hoopla) Author Barbara Kingsolver and her husband and two daughters decide to move to some family land in Virginia on a mission to eat locally for one year. And by “local,” I mean their own yard or a small farmer in their community. (They make an exception for coffee because they are not total masochists.) I learned a lot about Kingsolver’s crew, as well as the food industry and environmental issues. There are lots of recipes for each month of the year, as well as meal plans and some how-to guides on things like cheese-making and canning. I think this would be so fun to discuss sometime in the summer and incorporate some of the meals into your book club meeting. Bonus: it actually motivated me to put on pants and go to the farmer’s market last weekend!

"Akata Witch" (individual book | BCIAB in July) At Book Club Speed Dating, I had to carry around a piece of plastic with the printed book cover taped to it like a sad weirdo because the library was out of copies since I can't stop recommending it. The bag itself will come out this summer when the paperback edition is released. The briefest summary I can give is that it’s like Harry Potter, except set in Nigeria and featuring an albino 12-year-old Nigerian-American girl and her weird witchy friends. She has a total “You’re a wizard, Harry”-esque moment and has to deal with battling demons and spirits while also battling being a pre-teen outcast. This one is Y.A., but I’d recommend it for anyone ages 12 to 112. If you can find a copy.

If you can, imagine all of those book pitches rapid-fire-style from a tall and slightly sweaty librarian, and you’ve got a general idea of what Book Club Speed Dating is like!

And here is the list of all books we’ve discussed. (Note: the ones that are not in the library catalog are linked to on Amazon for ease of reading the description. We’d love it if you bought them at our friends the Raven and The Dusty Bookshelf instead!) If you’ve got any questions about this event or any of our book club services, email me: kgramlich@lplks.org

— Kate Gramlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.

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