The Grackle

Observations, Reflections and Miscellany from the Wacoan

Books & Brews, a Traveling Book Club

WACOAN Club Series

6 months ago

By Avery Ballmann

Old books and grumpy shushing librarians are what first come to mind when people think of libraries. But Waco-McLennan County Library is changing that narrative. Senior Public Information and Communication Specialist for the Waco-McLennan County Public Library Amy Sassatelli said it’s not your grandma’s library, it’s so much more.

“Because so many people nowadays think ‘Library? I don’t check out books, so why would I go to the library?’ but the library has so many programs every single month,” Sassatelli said.

The Waco-McLennan County Library has four branches including the Central, East, South and West Waco libraries. At each branch, there are programs for teens, toddlers, families and adults. However, there is a program that doesn’t meet inside the library walls — Books & Brews book club takes advantage of Waco’s small businesses.

The founder of Books & Brews and previous Senior Public Information and Communication Specialist, Jessica Emmett-Sellers, wanted to create a different kind of book club, so she enlisted the help of patrons and asked them what they liked about their book clubs. An overwhelming majority mentioned the word “comfort” which wasn’t exactly what the library’s sterile small conference rooms provided. So, Emmett-Sellers moved the club offsite and it is still going five years later.

“One really nice thing about working in libraries and working in public service is that you can do things that are actually really rewarding, and they’re also part of your job,” Emmett-Sellers said. “A really nice thing is being able to explore the city; to take a look at these small businesses that are popping up and going, ‘Hey, we’re gonna bring 10 potential customers to your local business on a Tuesday night.’”

Not only are Emmett-Sellers and Sassatelli supporting local businesses such as Hemingway’s, Pivovar and Pinewood, but they are also creating a community for their members. Sassatelli said Books & Brews and the libraries have bounced back after COVID-19 and there has been an increase in visitors.

“I think we’re getting a lot of new people that are looking for what’s new and exciting out there. So, people that were going on with their normal lives weren’t even thinking about it (the library),” Sassatelli said. “Now, they’re looking for things to do, so we are getting a lot of new people that we haven’t had before going to programs.”

All the library’s programs are free and open to the public. For Books & Brews specifically, the book of the month is provided by Sassatelli and there is no requirement to order a drink when the club meets. Emmett-Sellers picks a different genre of book every month based on book recommendations. Since this club is for adults only, Emmett Sellers said she typically picks books with more complex themes.

“I tried to pick stuff that is going to spark discussion, we wouldn’t be as successful if we didn’t have good discussions about some of the books,” Emmett-Sellers said.

Sometimes the discussion is about how bad the book was, how someone in the group relates or remembers the time period the book was set in, or some members don’t have to speak at all.

“We don’t put people on the spot. It’s not like a guided reading question-answer thing,” Sassatelli said. “It’s a very organic discussion about the book, which makes it again, a lot more cozy and welcoming.”

While Books & Brews provides meaningful dialogue about literature, it also is home to a community that has welcomed new members and has held onto the ones from the start such as Sassatelli and Emmett-Sellers. Sassatelli said she wants to hear what new members have to say about the club or the book and that they are always welcome.

The next Books & Brews meeting is Tuesday, January 9 from 6:30—8 p.m. at Union Grove, 8100 Woodway Dr. where they will discuss “Toward the Corner of Mercy and Peace” by Tracey Buchanan. Or you can join them on February 13 at Waco Ale Company, 806 Austin Ave. The book they will be discussing is “Deliberate Cruelty: Truman Capote, the Millionaire’s Wife, and the Murder of the Century” by Roseanne Montillo, a true crime tale taking place in the 1950s.

“A lot of times they’ll go ‘I wouldn’t have picked it, but I’m glad I read it,’” Emmett-Sellers said. “So those experiences are really important in getting people to recognize the diversity in the library collection and that we do have a lot of different kinds of things.”