During the pandemic, local residents gathered to partner with the Livermore Public Library and create a political book club that meets on the third Tuesday of every month via Zoom.
“There is a common understanding that you should not discuss politics or religion,” participant Werner Schlapfer said. “I completely disagree. In fact, for me, the book clubs are one of the only venues for such worthwhile discussions. If you are afraid to have your ideas challenged, do not join. If on the other hand, you are willing to hear new points of view, you will learn a lot.”
Topics that are otherwise considered taboo are regularly discussed in the Political Book Club. Molly Bang, another participant, has always been intrigued by politics but found it challenging to find others with similar interests.
“The Political Book Club is a way to do this with others who are interested but have different backgrounds, ideas and opinions than I do and often have more knowledge about the subject,” she said.
The administrator of the group, Rich Couch, organizes the meetings and helps facilitate the discussions with half a dozen or so members, each coming from diverse walks of life.
“The term politics is considered in a broad sense,” he said.
Topics such as race, religion, the criminal justice system, economics, climate change, sociology, and history are discussed.
Zoom has also allowed people out of town to participate. Couch runs the group democratically, where suggestions are taken at each meeting and the group decides which book will be discussed the following month. Only titles published within the last year are considered.
“The most interesting times for me have been when we disagree about an author’s position, or when we are all astounded by a new understanding,” said Bang.
When the Political Book Club read “The Deficit Myth,” by Stephanie Kelton and learned about modern monetary theory, participants had a healthy discussion about the role of government spending and the economic health of the United States.
Other books discussed were “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong About the World and Why Things Are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling; “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson; and “Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?” by Bill McKibben. The group recently finished “Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America” by Bay Area local Ian Haney López.
López is a professor at Berkeley Law, where he has deeply studied racial justice in American law. His latest book, which was published on the heels of his first, “Dog Whistle Politics,” builds upon his ongoing work as a politics, race, and communications analyst. “Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America” is described by the publisher as “an essential road map to neutralizing the role of racism as a divide-and-conquer political weapon and to building a broad multiracial progressive future.”
Couch and his group have a growing list of other books to consider, too, and welcome new members to contribute to both the list of future books as well as their monthly discussions. And with both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporting a record uptick in political book titles in 2020, it appears current and future Political Book Club participants will have many new options to choose from.
Joyce Nevins, supervising librarian at Livermore Public Library, expressed excitement about the potential growth in the Politics Book Club. She is also open to book club suggestions on other subjects.
“We would be willing to work with Livermore community members who are interested in starting a book club,” said Nevins.
To start a book club, Nevins explained that one would need to interview with a librarian, demonstrate a strong commitment, and be willing to open the group to anyone wanting to participate respectfully. Book clubs can also meet as frequently or as seldom as they’d like.
“Libraries are about fostering connections and a sense of community, and book clubs are one of the many ways libraries can accomplish this,” Nevins said. “It’s also a wonderful way to introduce people to the library and its resources — what we can do for them and for the entire community.”
The Political Book Club will continue in the near future over Zoom, although the Livermore Public Library has already begun moving cautiously toward reopening. For example, since Feb.17, 2021, the Civic Center Library has been open by appointment again. Capacity is limited and to slow the spread of COVID-19, only select services are available during onsite visits.
For more information, visit bit.ly/LIVLibrary.