A Date with Books

Getting lost with an intriguing character, enveloped in a scene set through remarkable prose or simply filling your mind with the accounts of days gone by can be an inviting way to pass the time for many. These adventures and more await in a number of books and area libraries are capitalizing on the interest of readers who wish to discuss what they’re reading.

026-ARTS-book-club-int“People always say people aren’t reading, but I just don’t see that,” says Nicole Hardina-Wilhelm, assistant director at the Neenah Public Library.

Creating a new chapter

Since January 2006, the Monday Morning Book Klatch has been gathering on the fourth Monday every month at 10 a.m. in the Neenah Public Library’s first floor Shattuck Community Room.

Reading everything from non-fiction to mystery, the group is led by Hardina-Wilhelm. While the group started small with its first title, “The Glass Castle,” a memoir by Jeannette Walls, it has steadily grown into 15 to 20 regular participating members.

“It’s been a really nice way to get to know people and talk about books,” says Hardina-Wilhelm. While the group is currently made up of moms and retired women, it is open to anyone. Children and grandchildren also are welcome to attend.

Hardina-Wilhelm tries to select titles for a year in advance with input from the group. A few slots are left open to accommodate the Fox Cities Reads book, along with other popular titles that may be released. A list of titles are available on

The Neenah Public Library also offers the Cookbook Book Club that meets once a month on the second Thursday from 6:30-7:30 p.m. in the first floor story time room. Each month, a different topic is discussed, recipes are shared and samples have been known to be tasted, too.

The Downtown Book Club started in July 2007 as an opportunity for readers to gather in downtown Appleton at what used to be Harmony Café. Since the café closed, the group has continued at the Appleton Public Library.

“We were looking to start something that met here or close by,” shares Elizabeth Eisen, adult programming librarian at the Appleton Public Library. “I think it works out really well because of people who work downtown and want to be part of that book club atmosphere.”

Attendees are invited to bring a lunch and discuss books on the third Wednesday of each month from noon to 1 p.m. year round. The format flips between discussing a combination of fiction and nonfiction books that everyone reads and picking “free-for-all” selections to share with the group.

Howard Porter, a volunteer who now leads the group, picks the reads six months in advance. The selections are posted on and also include the Fox Cities Reads book.

The group typically consists of seven to eight individuals, but has gone up to a dozen.

While the Appleton Public Library has had a number of book clubs over the years, another club that has continued is the Non-Fiction Book Discussions that started in July 2006. After a hiatus in 2007, the club restarted in March 2015 and is now led by Bob Schmall, a retired history lecturer. The group meets on the second Wednesday of each month, with the exception of summer, from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

026-ARTS-BooksJoseph Bongers leads another area non-fiction club. After working at the Neenah Public Library where he had facilitated a book club, Bongers received requests to start a daytime non-fiction club at the Elisha D. Smith Public Library in Menasha after starting his new position. “I politely said I wasn’t so sure that was a good idea,” recalls the adult services supervisor. He later started the Tuesday Nonfiction Book Club which meets on the third Tuesday. It has grown from four to six individuals to a dozen or more. The group became large enough to move the group to a downstairs meeting room.

“People kept coming and it was wonderful,” Bongers recalls. The group is probably now maxed out at its usual 16-17 members made up of men and women who are mostly retired; some have participated since the beginning.

The group tends to read history, biographies and some science. Bongers selects the titles for the group, but does so through feedback from a ballot which he gives to the group. The reads are scheduled six months at a time with lighter selections in the spring and summer, and heavier and lengthy material reserved for winter.

What’s in a read?

Eisen attributes the interest in book clubs to the comradery and notes it’s also therapeutic. In addition, it forces individuals to pick up books they wouldn’t normally read and continue to educate themselves.

“It keeps your mind young,” she says.

“We just try to read a variety out of our comfort zone,” adds Hardina-Wilhelm. “I think people like to talk about what they’re reading, but don’t always know what people are reading.”

Bongers notes that it also broadens one’s horizons and understanding of the people and world around them, along with challenging feelings. In some cases, it may also provide an outlet to share an exchange of personal stories.

“It almost has this homework quality about it,” he shares.

Bongers enjoys the courtesy of his group. In December 2010, starting with the title, “Spoken from the Heart” by Laura Bush, Bongers asked members to rate the selection on a scale of one to 10.

“I just did it as a tool to make sure everyone had the floor,” he notes. Now, Bongers not only has a record of what the club has read, but their feelings about each book as well. He uses the information at the Reference Desk to help patrons who are seeking recommendations.

In addition to hosting library-run groups, area book clubs also can receive assistance from Fox Cities libraries. Library services can help patrons seeking meeting space, title recommendations and multiple copies with proper lead time.

Writing the future

Finding time to read can be challenging due to the demands of everyday life. For that very reason, Hardina-Wilhelm also is exploring non-traditional options for book clubs and discussion groups. She would like to create a discussion group through Facebook that would provide another outlet for readers in need of flexibility.

Bongers believes the formula of his group is working and hopes to keep it going not only for the elements of reading, but also because of the social aspect, which people can appreciate and benefit from. Many of the members have formed friendships through the club and didn’t know each other previously, Bongers shares.

“It is one of the things I like best about my job and I like my job,” he says. “To me, this is public library service at its best.”

Eisen also is up for a new adventure when it comes to books and hopes to collaborate more with the community.

“I want people who are thinking about joining a book club to take the opportunity to explore it,” she says. “That’s the beauty of the public library, it’s free! You get to experience it without paying.”

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Book bonus

Are you looking for a good read? Take a look at these selections from area library book clubs.

Appleton Public Library

The Downtown Book Club

  • “The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan
  • “Winter Garden” by Kristin Hannah
  • “Moo” by Jane Smiley
  • “Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline
  • “Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage” by Will Swift
  • “A Farewell to Arms” by Ernest Hemingway
  • “The Plum Tree” by Ellen Marie Wiseman
  • “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • “Wonder” by RJ Palacio
  • “A Curious Man: the Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley” by Neal Thompson
  • “The Rent Collector: A Novel” by Camron Steve Wright
  • “Death Comes to Pemberly” by P.D. James
  • “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe
  • “Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbary
  • “The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age” by Richard Louv
  • “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv
  • “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
  • “A Redbird Christmas” by Fannie Flagg
  • “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain
  • “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett
  • “The Language of Flowers: A Novel” by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  • “Make the Impossible Possible: one man’s crusade to inspire others to dream bigger and achieve the extraordinary” by Bill Strickland
  • “The Leftovers” by Tom Perrotta
  • “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society” by Mary Ann Shaffler

Non-Fiction Book Club

  • “Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitana” by Erik Larson
  • “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough
  • “Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation” by Joseph Ellis
  • “Bloody Lies: A CSI Scandal in the Heartland” by John Ferak
  • “1776” by David McCullough
  • “Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History” by George Crile
  • “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand
  • “They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace in Vietnam and America October 1967” by David Maraniss
  • “The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America’s Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11” by Ron Suskind
  • “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” by Steven Levitt
  • “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking” by Malcolm Gladwell
  • “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy 1917-1963” by Robert Dallek
  • “Theodore Rex” by Edmund Morris
  • “His Excellency: George Washington” by Joseph Ellis

Elisha D. Smith Public Library

Nonfiction Book Club

  • “In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the U.S.S Jeanette” by Hampton Sides
  • “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Lauren Hillenbrand
  • “Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour” by Lynne Olsen
  • “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert
  • “The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright
  • “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” by Jill Bolte Taylor
  • “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
  • “The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” by Candice Millard
  • “The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” by Daniel James Brown
  • “Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior” by Temple Grandin
  • “Cleopatra: A Life” by Stacy Schiff
  • “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity” by Katherine Boo
  • “Making Toast: A Family Story” by Roger Rosenblatt
  • “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe
  • “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain
  • “The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court” by Jeffrey Toobin
  • “Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II” by Denise Kiernan
  • “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv
  • “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President” by Candice Millard
  • “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed
  • “The Orphan Train” by Christina Baker Kline
  • “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg
  • “Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II” by Mitchell Zuckoff
  • “The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York” by Deborah Blum
  • “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan

Neenah Public Library

Monday Morning Book Klatch

  • “I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai
  • “Big Little Lies” by Laine Moriarty
  • “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal
  • “Dead Wake” by Erik Larson
  • “The Good Girl” by Mary Kubica
  • “Dad is Fat” by Jim Gaffigan
  • “Jade Dragon Mountain” by Elsa Hart
  • “The Pearl that Broke Its Shell” by Nadia Hashimi
  • “The First Phone Call from Heaven” by Mitch Albom
  • “The End of Your Life Book Club” by Will Schwalbe
  • “The Rosie Project” by Graeme Simsion
  • “Longbourn” by Jo Baker
  • “Shotgun Lovesongs” by Nickolas Butler
  • “The Winter People” by Jennifer McMahon
  • “One Summer: America, 1927” by Bill Bryson
  • “The Age of Miracles” by Karen Thompson Walker
  • “The Vacationers” by Emma Straub
  • “Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd
  • “Help for the Haunted” by John Searles
  • “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
  • “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo
  • “Good House” by Ann Leary
  • “Wonder” by R.J. Palacio
  • “Kitchen House” by Katherine Grissom




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