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10/19/2019
Free Style Book Club puts a new spin on reading groups

By RAEGAN MILLER
Daily News Staff Writer

Literature lovers who long for the community atmosphere of a book club but dread the required reading can now join the “Free Style Book Club,” a laid-back approach to the traditional book club experience.

The Free Style Book Club, which got its start in February, meets every second and fourth Tuesday of the month, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the Ketchikan Public Library’s small conference room.

June Dahl started the club after her retirement from working with the Department of Social and Home Services in Washington state. Dahl, who had resided in the First City from 1979 to 1982, moved back to Ketchikan in 2012.

While Dahl keeps busy as a member of the Library Advisory Board and as president of the Friends of the Ketchikan Public Library, the Free Style Book Club was a new idea of her own.

“I think when I retired I thought, 'I'm going to join a book club,' and then I thought about it and I thought, 'oh, they're probably going to want me to read ‘War and Peace’ or something, and that isn't my idea of a good time,'” Dahl told the Daily News.

“I had always thought that's what you do when you retire,” Dahl said about joining a book club. “When I got to the point where I had the time to look at this, I thought, 'okay, I need to design it in a way that fits me.'”

Her inspiration to create a club of her own came not only from her retirement — and a retired librarian friend who both joined and started book clubs — but from the late Ketchikan resident Robert St. Clair.

“A visionary at times, and always a forward-thinking person, he wanted to share ideas and create places for people to do so,” read a memorial for St. Clair, provided by Dahl to the Daily News. “Bob envisioned a 'place where books and coffee' were served as people came to talk and exchange ideas.”

“It helped me form the vision of what this could look like,” Dahl said about St. Clair's vision.

Dahl knew before the club got started that she didn't want the Free Style Book Club to feature a required reading list, like many other literary discussion groups. The club combines snacks, drinks and books to create what Dahl called an “open, welcoming group.”

“Sometimes people who like to read aren't terribly social, and so this is a chance to get together — and they are very comfortable with the subject matter — so they can shine,” Dahl said about the club, which she described as “low key.”

The club meetings do not follow a rigid schedule. During a gathering, members sit around a table and take turns sharing about the books they’ve recently enjoyed. Sometimes a club member might talk about up to three of their recent reads before their “turn” is over. During meetings, those present have in the past started discussions about what everyone’s ‘top three favorite’ books are, according to Dahl.

“Someone might be into science fiction, someone might be into the classics, but everybody listens to what everybody has to say,” Dahl said about the group, which features an estimated eight to 10 regular members ranging in age and interest.

The club also shares resources for finding new books to enjoy — such as the ever-changing New York Times bestselling list, websites, and lists of recent library checkouts that are occasionally compiled and distributed to the club by library staff.

A book that a club member discusses during a meeting is often picked up by other members, Dahl said, referencing her experience with the book “An Available Man” by Hilma Wolitzer, which is about a recently widowed man and his experiences with romance after his wife’s passing. The book had been recommended during a club meeting and Dahl said it was so good that she found herself “sobbing” during a scene or two.

Participants often lend books to each other or recommend good titles at meetings.

 Dahl believes that reading books recommended through the Free Style Book Club isn't mandatory for participants, but makes the group fun.

“We come and we spew out all these book titles and then we go home, so if nobody picks up on any of these, what are we meeting for?” Dahl said.

To those pondering joining the club, Dahl said it “wasn't a commitment.”

“I don't think anybody thinks they're some intellectual and high about everybody else,” Dahl said. “We're just people who like to read, and we appreciate books and we appreciate authors.”

Club participants can choose to come to meetings whenever it is convenient — because there isn't an assigned book, a missed meeting won't mean confusion at the next gathering.

“I think a person shouldn't hesitate to come because they think, 'oh, you know, I can't talk about this book in a way that would interest people,'” Dahl said.

Note: while the Free Style Book Club regularly meetings on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month, the October meetings will be held on the second and fifth Tuesday.