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Local book groups offer a sense of community one page at a time.

Ask the nine women and one man at the Contemporary Fiction Group at Barnes & Noble on Broadway Boulevard why they are in a book group, and a chorus replies, "love to read."

On a recent Wednesday, the group amicably sat down to discuss Dive From Clausen Pier by Ann Packer. Four in the group are regulars; a mother and daughter attend semi-regularly. Three veteran book group goers; though new to this venue, they're seeking a place to nest and build a literate community.

The group has a love-hate relationship with the book; lukewarm is not an option. Passionate opinions are bantered about, though not everyone verbally participates. Leaders and listeners emerge.

Like a good or bad movie, books demand to be dished and dissected. While reading a good book might be a solitary experience, agreeing to disagree is open for discussion.

At Barnes & Noble, each book group democratically chooses what they're going to read for the next six months. One unofficial rule set by Lynn, the lively and articulate employee facilitator, is to agree to read at least the first 50 pages and then read another chapter.

Not surprisingly, many folks belong to more than one book group: Judy belongs to contemporary fiction, mystery and the classics book groups.

Kristine participates in a lunch hour book group along with fellow lawyers at Pima County Courthouse. The lawyers recently read The Adventures of Augie March: A Novel by Saul Bellow. If Kristine could change anything about the courthouse book group, it would be to limit the number of pages (536) of Augie March.

Paula belongs to contemporary fiction and classics, and she also leads a group of 12 fiction-minded friends. Although Paula enjoys each book group, she says, "Reining her friends in to focus on the book instead of the casual familiarity of catching up sometimes distracts from quality discussions."

Not limited by gender, weight, sexual orientation or age, super-sleuthing becomes the ultimate fantasy as mystery book groups outnumber other genres.

"It's not so surprising that mysteries are popular, because unlike the real world, crimes are solved, justice done and closure reached," says mystery maven Chris Acevedo, owner of Clues Unlimited. Usually six to eight women regulars and one man meet monthly to compare clues, unravel plots and explore grizzly crime scene investigations.

For the past six years, Penny has been a member of Antigone's Second Sunday book group focusing on fiction by women authors. During that time, they've read books by male authors (The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Danish Girl by David Ebershoff) only twice. Books by authors Ann Patchett and Tucson's Barbara Kingsolver reoccur by popular demand.

"By being in a book group, I'll read books that I personally never would haven chosen," says Penny. "I also enjoy the social aspect of sharing thoughts while listening to other perspectives in order to gain new ways of understanding."

Laurel-Heather Milden has been the facilitator for the Second Sunday book group since 1997. During that time, only one man has participated. He joined the discussion because he liked the book, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and returned the following month for more intelligent discourse.

Milden says the group has a core of six to eight women but between 11 and 17 join in at any time ranging from ages 20-something to 70, each relating her own experience onto the pages. Coming-of-age books are passé while African, Indian and lesbian authors seem to be the preferred favorites.

Milden advises, "If you enjoy reading, join a book group to meet interesting people that you might never meet otherwise. Don't be afraid to express your opinion and be open to broadening your viewpoint."

God makes an appearance every Thursday at the Conversations With God book group. Ongoing for three years with a core group of a dozen souls, facilitator Paula Anderson says that usually 10 to 25 people show up to read aloud and discuss pages. Unlike other women-centric book groups, it attracts 40 percent men with an age range from college students to late 70s. Conversations With God book groups are held worldwide focusing on spirituality and unconditional love.

Whatever your interest, it's quite possible a book group already exists or can be started by approaching local bookstores with suggestions. Downtown at Biblio, customers are invited to post specific requests on the bulletin board as the first step of forming a book group or one-time dialogue.

Back at Barnes & Noble, facilitator Lynn wraps up her hour in a neat little package with a departing thought, "Most everyone agrees that happy endings don't lend themselves to good discussions. Life goes on; it's messy and we like it that way."

More by Karyn Zoldan

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