Travelling suitcase library

suitcase of memories by libookperson via flickr CC

I stumbled across The Travelling Suitcase Library manifesto and was fascinated to read about this concept. This is more or less how my book club has operated over the past 10 years or so and I decided that Blog Every Day in June is a good time to tell the story.

When a group of my friends decided to start a book club, we all had small children, husbands who worked long hours or travelled, and part time jobs ourselves. The thought of having to read a particular book in a particular month seemed to be an imposition on ourselves and each other that couldn’t be supported. Book Club was meant to be relaxing ‘me time’ for us, not provide yet another pressure to get something done.

So we set up a private library. The first time we met, everyone brought a book along that they wanted to share with others and the host for the evening put in 2 books. That is the genesis of our collection and yes, it travels around in a suitcase from house to house as we take turns to host Book Club. Each month is held in a different person’s house and that person puts 2 new books into the collection. Over time, good discussions happen as there is usually 4 or 5 people in the group who have read any particular book. We developed a rating system out of 5 for the books, with 1 being ‘couldn’t finish it’ and 5 being ‘I would read it again it was so good’ and kept the records of each reader’s rating on index cards stapled into the back cover of the book. This was a crude sort of ‘reader recommendation’ system – pick up a book to read and find someone else’s opinion there ready to go.

More than 10 years on, 8 or 9 of the original 12 bookclubbers are still meeting more or less monthly and we’ve collected a few extras along the way – but there’s usually only 8 or so at any one month’s meeting. Our suitcase library, despite several culls, books returned to members who have left and a few months of “let’s not put any books in this month” is unwieldy and almost impossible to lift.

Last year we flirted briefly with getting everyone to read the same book in a month but we’re really not disciplined enough – although the kids have grown up and many of the husbands are no longer around, most of us are now facing other life-gets-in-the-way moments such as working fulltime, caring for elderly parents or battling ill health ourselves.

So this month, we’re trying something new. The group has chosen 3 books and asked us to choose one of them and read it before Book Club next month. I wasn’t at Book Club last month and didn’t have any input into the book list that was set but by chance, one of them is Caleb’s Crossing and I’m already reading it, having been given it for Mother’s Day.

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6 thoughts on “Travelling suitcase library

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  4. Enough flexibility to cater for different tastes, a minimum ‘reading discipline’ but enough commonality to form a community. What an excellent system 🙂 And a collection development policy where the total weight of the collection has to be taken into account…

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