A 1948 invitation to a “book tea” in East Harpswell.
When you hear “book club,” what comes to mind for you? Book clubs come in all sizes, ranging from the megaclubs of Oprah and Reese Witherspoon, which drive book sales for authors to glorious heights, to intimate groups of fewer than four. Some clubs are by invitation, meeting in one another’s homes, complete with refreshments. Birthdays and baby showers are celebrated by these lovers of literature and one another. Others are created around common interests, such as Maine history or women authors. Here at Cundy’s Harbor Library, a mystery series set in a Maine bookstore or library is guaranteed to be a popular read. If it includes a bakery or chocolate, there is an informal book group that keeps us busy circulating the titles.
Clubs are as unique as the readers themselves. Cundy’s Harbor Library has its roots in “book teas” held at local people’s homes. The invitation accompanying this column was sent in 1948. This tea was to discuss aspects of “book-making” and marketing. Those who have roots in the Harpswell, Brunswick and Freeport area will be familiar with some of the participants —novelist Elinor Graham, humorist John Gould and poet Robert Peter Tristram Coffin — as well as the hostess, Susan Pulsifer. The invitation was illustrated by Edythe Laws and sent to people in the area. The public was welcomed into these teas as these participants shared their work and love of all things literary. We continue to have their works in our Maine collection. As time passed, so did the book teas of Cundy’s Harbor Library.
Yet the foundation of the book tea remains here in our little library on the harbor. Today our library community has given rise to a new book club known as the Scratch Paper Book Club. Given our limited space, all are greeted upon arrival. Our Maine collection is to the immediate left and new arrivals are on the shelf facing the door. It is in this space that the Scratch Paper Book Club was born. They meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Is there a specific time? No. Are there refreshments? Sometimes. It depends on what the members have on hand and decide to bring: tomatoes, muffins, banana bread or brownies. Is there a discussion? Of course.
From its start, I have loved this book club. It began when readers came in looking for a recommendation and a volunteer spearheaded the discussion. From this grassroots start, the club evolved. The discussion takes place on pieces of scratch paper and Post-its. Within the first month, this loosely formed book club showed up during the day with their scratch paper. The name came from their frequent request: “Do you have a scratch piece of paper I can use?”
The meetings are fluid and often consist of swapping the scratch papers with one another. Questions drive the discussion: “Have you read … ?” and “Did you like it?” and “Did you finish it?” The comments go from “Oh, I want to try that one!” to “Let me know when you’re done so we can talk.” Book requests come from this fluidity of conversation. The book themes this year have been women in World War II, libraries and librarians, a resurgence of Robert Parker, and, of course, every Paul Doiron to date. Do you know his last name is pronounced Dwarren? Our book club members do!
No matter what format of book gathering appeals to you, libraries across Maine work together to get the copies you need when you gather. Every day across Maine, librarians and directors send out requests on an email list. Each day, the books are gathered and sent. Here at Cundy’s Harbor Library, we send and receive these books thanks to Curtis Memorial Library. The Harpswell library connections allow all Harpswell requesters to receive multiple copies of books within a week or so. Curtis gathers them and either David, our librarian, or I go and pick up or drop off these items.
So if you want to join a club or are already in one, come visit any one of our libraries to see if we have the book. If not, we work together to provide them for you from any library around our state. And don’t forget to enjoy a nice cup of tea.
“Library Connections” is a monthly column that rotates among the three libraries that serve Harpswell: Cundy’s Harbor, Orr’s Island and Curtis Memorial. Heather Logan is the director of the Cundy’s Harbor Library.