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Best-selling author Rebecca Makkai visits book clubs at Niles Library event

Book club members and prospective members gathered at a brewery in Niles last week for a mixer with New York Times best-selling author Rebecca Makkai, coordinated by the Niles Maine District Library.

Makkai, who has written five books, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “The Great Believers.” For that book, she also received the ALA Carnegie Medal, the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize and the LA Times Book Prize, among other honors. At the March 18 event, her celebrity drew book lovers to an evening at Une Année/ Hubbard’s Cave Brewery & BBQ in Niles to discuss the value of book clubs.

“We were excited to come,” said Chris Cerri, who participates in a book club that meets in Des Plaines. “‘The Great Believers’ is the book that we read from (Makkai), and so we wanted to come and listen and see about her new books.”

Makkai addressed the crowd, talking about the significance of people getting together to discuss stories. Library staff said 175 people registered for the event and 160 attended.

“Storytelling is one of the most ancient things we still do as human beings,” Makkai said. “Storytelling was always communal; it was always about gathering around the fire and bringing songs from people far away.”

Sarah Langford, a Lit Ladies book club member, said she enjoyed “The Great Believers.”

“When it was announced that the Niles Library was doing a mixer with (Makkai) at a place so close to home, and at a great place, we came here to hear what she had to say,” Langford commented.

Makkai doesn’t participate in any book clubs herself but wanted to support the Niles library event when librarian Michael Hominick invited her. She said authors usually also have something to gain by attending book club meetings to sell books.

Makkai said that after the pandemic, she has seen more and more book clubs taking the opportunity to interact with authors.

“This is a really interesting development, from where it used to be that writers had to drive to where they were and possibly spend the night… Now you can get an author to get on Zoom without ever having to leave your living room,” she said. “No book club should be afraid to reach out to an author; you never know. The worst the author can say is no,” said Makkai.

Connie Obrochta, a co-owner of New Book Joy, a bookstore at 5512 W. Devon Ave. in Chicago’s Edgebrook neighborhood, near Niles and Skokie, set up a corner to sell books at the mixer and to promote her store, which can help people get into book clubs.

Obrochta said the idea of book clubs is getting more and more popular. She said that New Book Joy also offers customers a lounge for book clubs where they can meet and discuss the books they are reading.

Langford said she likes being in a book club with her friends because it gives them something meaningful to talk about.

“There’s also the alcohol, I’m not gonna lie,” she quipped, “but honestly, in our book club, we take the book very seriously and talk about it for a long time, and it’s always great to be introduced to new authors.”

Kathy English, of the same Des Plaines book club as Cerri, said their group reads a book each month and rotates who picks the book, leads discussion on it, and hosts the book club. With 14 members in the same book club, she said that the club formed out of existing friendships.