ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS, NJ – For those who think libraries are dull, drab places where only little old ladies or the highly intellectual spend their time, drop in to the library any fourth Thursday at 7 p.m. It’s the regular monthly meeting of the Book Lovers Discussion Group, now in its sixth year.
Their meetings are anything but dull and dry. Intellectual for sure, but not so much to scare you. Fun, exciting, diverse and scintillating enough to make you want to keep coming back.
Members of the club love what they do, read, act, sing, and talk about, but they also are high on praise for Branch Manager Jane Reynolds, whose name has become as synonymous with the library as the likes of Louise Donoghue, Barbara Nelson and Marilyn Scherfen, all of whom have served as head of the library over many decades dating back to the mid-20th century! Marilyn was the last to serve as librarian when it was part of the borough, and the first to serve as the branch manager when it became part of the Monmouth County Library system in 2011. When she retired the following year, long time children’s librarian Jane Reynolds took over as branch manager and continued the outstanding work of her predecessors in this community that loves reading, fun, learning, and getting together.
Scherfen, who is still an active member of the discussion group, can tell the history of the club, and credits its start to Lori Montana and Elita Taylor six years ago. The ladies approached the librarian with their idea to conduct an evening book club. The Friends of the Library already had a very successful daytime group, that one at the suggestion of the late Pearl Lemberg. The daytime group is still headed, “marvelously,” Scherfen enthuses, by member Mayor Randi LeGrice, who still remains active with the discussion groups in spite of her work load as borough mayor.
“But there was also a real need for an evening group for those who couldn’t make it during the day,” Scherfen explained, “so I was delighted with the prospect for the library. Besides, it was wonderful to have the addition of the second book club each month. Elita and Lori did a superb job in starting up the group.”
When Taylor bid her friends adieu last year to move back to her native Australia, Montana continued as its head and guiding force, while individual book discussions are led by the members themselves each month. That the programs are successful and fun is evidenced by the fact some library members attend both the morning and evening discussion groups.
Last Thursday’s meeting was a discussion of “Year of Wonder” by Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks. Mayor LeGrice remembers that was also a discussion group winner in the group’s first year, and it was the book that made her a fan of Brooks, “and I’ve devoured everything she’s written since then!” the mayor said.
Not that the entire evening remains focused on a single book! There have been discussions about nursery rhymes, and the real story behind “ Ring Around the Rosie.” And the stories about the plague as written by German composer Johann Pachelbel to his wife also has stirred up a lot of conversation among members. Montana recently attended a discussion at the Two River Theater on “Pericles” by Shakespeare, so there’s no doubt she’ll bring that up for discussion.
Montana also is high on praise for Branch Manager Reynolds, who orders the books the members choose for each month. She credits Mike Scherfen with designing the flyers the club puts out, as well as the logo he long ago designed for it. Member Jo Wnorowski maintains the blog at : https://ahlebc.blogspot.com which is well worth a visit, and “the Friends of the Library always are supportive of everything we do.”
Member Sharon Riely said it’s that diversity in subjects that appeals to her the most. She has been a member for five years, and likes that the group is open to all members of the library. “People are comfortable coming as often as they are able, without any pressure. Opinions on the books we read are always varied, sometimes polar opposites in views, but always given and received with respect.” While the group focuses on the book under discussion, occasionally, she admits, “we go off on tangents, but always come back.” Best of all, Riely explains, I have read books I would never have selected on my own, and gain such insight from all of our members. Our librarians are very supportive of book club, and on occasion have joined in the discussion. I hope we continue many more years.”
Montana addes to Riely’s opinions, admitting it is a very diverse group and include people from all ages, life experiences and backgrounds. But, she quickly points out, “Because of all of this, I am reading books I would never pick up in a million years and I’ve read authors that I never had any desire to read. I am so grateful to the club for getting me out of my literary bubble and exposing me to other genres. The variety has made me read more broadly, increased my love of reading by showing me how truly amazing a writer’s imagination has to be. I have also discovered how beautiful and complex the English language is. I have more respect for the skill it takes to write.”
As far as the Atlantic highlands library specifically goes, Montana doesn’t hold back at all. “We have the greatest library on the planet! We have the most caring and helpful librarians I’ve ever met. They talk to all the patrons, young and old, book club members and non book club members. Their love of the written word and the way they treat everyone makes our library a welcoming place. It’s a place to learn, to think, and to dream. They also make new patrons feel comfortable. The books our club and the morning book club read are not hidden. The librarians display them on the shelf behind the circulation desk. That makes the books easy to spot and tells prospective members that they are wanted. All of the books we read are free and that is probably the most important way the library has helped because we could never have such a diverse