LitClub:  Valley Readers
Hancock, Vermont

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IN THE AFTERMATH of a violent storm, a new esprit de corp was born in Hancock, Vermont, as residents pulled together to rebuild their small town. One of the lasting effects was the founding of a wonderful book club.

Tell us more about your club history.
Irene, the tropical storm that roared up the East Coast in August, 2011, hit us hard. Even more than two years later, we're still repairing homes and rebuilding roads and bridges.

It must have been awful.
Yes, but neighbors helped neighbors, and volunteers poured in to offer assistance. It took a bit for us to catch our breath, but by March, 2012, many wanted to see this hard-won community spirit last.

Part of our efforts was to form the Friends of the Hancock Free Public Library. We wanted to increase awareness and library usage and help create new programs.

Then what happened?
We realized that a book group would be a great way to get people together, so we formed in September 2012. We've had a steady group of 8-12 people—it's rewarding to have such a popular activity in our small town.

Are you all from Hancock?
No. Hancock has a population of only 324. We draw our members from three towns in the surrounding area (and farther out). Our name, "Valley Readers" reflects our geography and our inclusiveness.

Well, let's talk about your books.
Here's our list for our first year as a book club:

Like Water for Chocolate
People of the Book
Skipping Christmas
Water for Elephants
Cutting for Stone
Sandcastle Girls
The Quilter's Apprentice
Traveling Mercies
The House Girl
A Week in Winter
Mrs. Kennedy and Me
Anne Morrow Lindbergh by Dorothy Hermann
The Storyteller

Great list. Any favorites?
Lots of people loved The Quilter's Apprentice and many went on to read the other books in that series. The House Girl and Mrs. Kennedy and Me were favorites, leading to good discussions.

How about disappointments?
Traveling Mercies was probably the groups least favorite book but it did lead to lots of discussion. People were upset about how the author raised her family and the way she treated religion.

Tell us how you select your books. It seems informal—and very pleasant, which isn't always the case in book clubs!
It's a very cooperative process. Each month we go around the table and talk about what everyone is reading on her own. We usually develop our list from member suggestions—nearly everyone has suggested one of our books. And we’ve read varied books as you can see.

One subject, however, we avoid: we all agreed that we don’t want to read books in which children are killed.

You saw Chris Bohjalian, right?
Yes, he's a Vermonter. He was giving a talk, about an hour away, on Sandcastle Girls, which we were in the process of reading for that month's meeting. We've also scheduled his newest, The Light in the Ruins, for our meeting in February 2014.

You're going to have a new home shortly.
Yes, we're very excited! We've been meeting at the Hancock Town Hall. But our tiny library is moving to another locale with three times the space as before. Once the move is over (late spring, 2014), we'll hold our meetings there.

Tell us what you do for Christmas.
We're heading into our second Christmas, now, when we hold a potluck dinner and book swap. Last year we met at a member's house...and this year we'll be at another member's.

How about club rules?
Only one rule: our club is a safe, non-judgmental environment in which to share thoughts. We don’t always agree with each other, but we're always respectful.

Finally, what would you like our readers to know about the Valley Readers?
We're made up of a diverse group of women, ranging in age from our 30s-80s. We tend to be more conservative because of our older members (no Fifty Shades of Grey for us as a group!), but we all get along so well and value the 90 minutes we spend together each month!

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