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Groundbreaking book club celebrates 20 years

Book clubs are everywhere now but one of the first anywhere in Alberta just celebrated its 20th anniversary at the St. Albert Public Library.
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They’re all the rage nowadays, but back in 1999 people thought the St. Albert Public Library was crazy for starting up a book club. Now, 20 years later, the group is still thriving, still reading new and interesting books, and meeting every second Wednesday of the month to talk about it with their fellow bookish friends.

Retired teachers Joan Mestinsek and Susan Supruniak have been there since the very beginning. Last Wednesday, they were back just like clockwork but this time they had celebratory cake. After all, two decades of literary dedication and long-term friendship deserves dessert.

They both agreed a love of reading and people is what has kept them coming back for more month after month.

“The leaders, they pick books ... that are recent and maybe a little controversial, things that we probably wouldn't pick ourselves,” explained Mestinsek. “Not everybody agrees that they liked the book, but that’s the point of it. You really learn a lot.”

“When I left my teaching profession and I was newly liberated from my career, I missed talking to my friends at school. Because every night after school, we’d go in the hallway and we'd be laughing and talking and joking and that was the best time of the day. There were several of us in there that got to know each other really well. I really believe ... it was an intellectual stimulation that I missed. For me, reading was always an escape,” Supruniak added, saying the club has definitely filled in the gap of that solitary activity with solitude-busting intellectual and emotional stimulation.

“I felt that when I was listening to other people talk around the table that I had missed reading during my career, because all I did was mark papers. It really got me firmly planted in the book club. I said, ‘I can't miss any more.’ It really got me interested. I haven't flagged over those years. I like the exchange with people. I like to hear their viewpoints. Once in a while, it's good to have a little disagreement because that's what democracy is. You have to listen to somebody else's views that you don't agree with.”

In 1999, the seniors drop-in book club started as a test project in conjunction with the United Nations’ International Year of the Older Person.

“That was our first trial at a book club 20 years ago. Now book clubs seem like an ordinary thing, but they were actually a fairly new concept at the time,” explained reader services librarian Luise Mendler-Johnson. “The challenge was put out by the Alberta Library Association to come up with some incentive program for it and the library came up with the seniors’ book club and it's been running ever since.”

Attendance ebbs and flows as all clubs do but there are a few dozen regulars who participate, surely making for lively discussion and enlightening active reading. Many long friendships have begun out of the club, too.

The next regular meeting will be at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 8. There won’t be cake this time, but if you catch up with a copy of the excellent non-fiction book Homes: A Refugee Story by Abu Bakr Al Rabeeah (as told to Winnie Yeung), then you too can be one of the fold.

Not just for seniors

The library hosts book clubs for different tastes and audiences, including an offbeat book club for those with eclectic interests. You can check them all out at sapl.ca/programs-events/programs/book-clubs.html.

It also has a variety of book club kits that can be rented out by any active member so you can start your own club in the community, like the new and thriving Akinsdale Book Club. Search for ‘book club kit’ on the library’s homepage to get started.




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