Barbara Kingsolver once said, “The first line of a novel is a promise the writer makes to the reader.” Once the reader turned the last page, they could start all over again and draw new meaning from that first line. It is a premise that Village Books book groups often discuss, but it also applies to Village Books itself.
Walking into Village Books is a promise that co-owners Paul Hanson, Kelly Evert and Sarah Hutton make to their readers, customers, and community every day. Whether through involvement in their book groups, independent perusal of the innovative and extensive titles on their shelves, or a recommendation from a staff member, you will not leave quite the same person. And that’s because connection and understanding are at the heart of everything Village Books does.
Connection and understanding are also the keystones of the 15 public book groups Village Books organizes. They range in topics from General Literature to Living With Meaning to Motherhood by the Book. One thing all these groups have in common? Participants get 15% off their selection and the chance to discuss literature with people from all walks of life.
“The first rule of book club is you talk about book club,” Hanson says with a laugh. And he should know, having facilitated book groups for many years.
“The most rewarding thing for me is reading off the beaten track. There’s so much in the algorithms that say if you read this, then you’ll like this,” he continues. But reading by algorithm can lead people into an echo chamber. “Hearing about someone else’s experience with a book, being able to appreciate it, and reading out of your comfort zone is really important for everyone to do.”
Village Books has taken books and reading even further out of their typical domains and into the community. One of the limited run book clubs that the team is particularly proud of is the Community Conversation group, inspired by the HomesNow! Project taking place in Fairhaven. The group discusses a book a month that focuses on issues around homelessness. The next book is Rachel and Her Children, by Jonathan Kozol.
“Books are a great facilitator,” Hanson says. “We partnered with Sustainable Connections, Opportunity Council, the Diaper Bank—I can’t even count all the sponsors we had.” These groups address issues of homelessness in their own way, and the book was the vehicle that brought them together to talk about it. “In those discussions, they see opportunities to do even more great things.”
That’s not the only way Village Books thinks outside the box. Hanson describes a particularly unique offering, where he and co-owner Kelly Evert hosted a three-day book group at sea on the Schooner Zodiac. “We tour the San Juan Islands and bring the author with us so you can discuss their book with them,” he says. “You participate in the navigation and hoisting the sails, too.”
For one of the participants, the experience was life-changing. “Most recently we had Nancy Pearl with us,” Hanson recalls. “There was a gentleman there who hadn’t read the book but came to all the discussions. And at the end he said, ‘You know, I’ve never been to a book group before. I was hesitant to come into this, but I’m so glad I did. I wish I had done this so much earlier in my life.’”
Hanson notes that the perception of book groups as the exclusive domain of women and wine, chit-chat and chardonnay, is one that Village Books constantly works to expand upon. “I think that’s one thing that would help a lot of men,” he says. “To be able to come to these and open up, listen.”
Co-owner Sarah Hutton concurs. “I love when folks really open up,” she says. “Last night I was sitting next to somebody who was talking about how the portrayal of grief really touched him because he had recently lost his father. He was literally tearing up telling the author how much his words at meant to him. To have the opportunity to stop for an hour and just be able to listen and share is quite powerful.”
Listening and sharing takes many forms at Village Books. In addition to their public book groups, they act as a point place for people’s private book groups. And they’re also launching a group in collaboration with radio station KAFE, where listeners who may not have time in their day for a formal, sit-down meeting can interact with DJ Mandy to share thoughts and discussions. November’s book is The Great Alone, by Kristin Hannah.
When you go to Village Books, you’re not just walking into a bookstore; you’re entering a community that promises to challenge you, accept you, and listen to you. You’ve come to a fork in the road: one path leading to familiar stories similar to your own, the other less traveled. The second path is populated with tales best read on the high seas, intergenerational conversations, and books about the world right outside your front door. Village Books book groups lead you down this second road, promising it will make all the difference.