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Book discussion groups make solitary hobby social

Library director and book club leader Gary Warren Niebuhr’s favorite crime/mystery book, “Mystic River,” sits on a Greendale Public Library shelf.

Library director and book club leader Gary Warren Niebuhr’s favorite crime/mystery book, “Mystic River,” sits on a Greendale Public Library shelf.

Dec. 24, 2012

Sitting at home and reading a book may not be the perfect cure for cabin fever.

But it's halfway there.

So go ahead and snuggle up on a comfy couch and get lost in another world. There are plenty of other avid readers with whom to connect after you're done - just check out one of many book clubs in the area.

Connecting with a club can morph the solitary experience of reading into a social engagement.

Local public libraries are home to several clubs, each offering something a little different than the others.

Mystery in Greendale

The Crime and Mystery Book Club at the Greendale Public Library only discusses books from the genre.

The 20-year-old club is run by Library Director Gary Warren Niebuhr and costs $50 per year for residents and $60 for nonresidents. The reason for the fee, Niebuhr said, is to foster smaller sessions with cohesiveness, focus and involvement.

"If it rains and you don't want to go outside, you come," he said. "... If I bought tickets to a theater, I'd go. I wouldn't say I'm too tired or I don't want to drive downtown today."

The 20 club members have formed a bond over the years, with many now quite well-versed in the mystery-crime genre. Some even go together to an annual mystery convention in Muskego.

The group has become so comfortable with each other that discussion often begins before Niebuhr gets there .

The books not only must be crime- or mystery-oriented, they must go beyond the formulaic mystery approach. Niebuhr's goal is not to talk about the book, but about the overarching themes and social topics. There are no "Murder She Wrote," good-guy-gets-the-bad-guy books here.

"We do crime fiction, which doesn't normally have a central character and has a big theme," Niebuhr said. "They are often stand-alone books with no continuing characters. The book I always mention as my No. 1 best example is 'Mystic River' by Dennis Lehane."

Another book Niebuhr believes fits the genre is "To Kill a Mockingbird," not for the crime and trial but for the issues of racism.

The group meets every fourth Thursday at the library. Register through the Greendale Park and Recreation Department, (414) 423-2790. The book sessions run in seasons, with the current season being half over. Those wishing to join now will get a reduced price.

Niebuhr's thoughts on reading: "Often people will say when we're reading we're trying to escape from something. A lot of us have a different theory in that readers want to escape into something. I love the crime fiction genre and love to escape into the world."

Dine-in discussions in Franklin

If you're a food lover as well as an avid reader, Franklin is the place for you. The Brown Baggers and Night Readers, both book clubs that meet at the Franklin Public Library, encourage members to bring a lunch or supper on which to dine during the discussion. Potluck meals are also organized, at times.

The Brown Baggers meet at 12:30 p.m. every third Thursday. The Night Readers meet at 6 p.m. Mondays.

Neither has a genre of choice - discussions can range from children's fiction to adult nonfiction.

Both groups have about 15 people who take part in mainly peer-led discussions. Both also try to bring in a local author at least once a year.

Registration is free; call the library at (414) 425-8214.

"It gives you the opportunity to get out," reference librarian Andy Scott said. "Maybe you're hunkered down during reading the book, but getting out to other people is important."

Hales Corners reaches out

The Hales Corners Public Library offers a free book club at the Forest Ridge retirement center, 11077 W. Forest Home Ave. The group has about 10 to 12 members; one does not need to be affiliated with Forest Ridge to attend.

The book club is an outreach program that provides books to seniors via the Milwaukee County library system.

Discussions occur about books from many genres. The next will be on "House Rules" by Jodi Picoult, a book about a teenager with Asperger's syndrome who is involved in a crime. Like many good books, it comes with a twist at the end.

Call the Hales Corners Public Library for information, (414) 529-6150.

Oak Creek offers two

Oak Creek is home to two book clubs, one for early birds and another for night owls. The first club meets every third Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. The second meets every fourth Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.

The groups are volunteer-driven and don't read from a set genre.

Anyone wanting to join can call the Oak Creek Public Library at (414) 764-4400.

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