When you think about it, there’s not much of a leap from reading a good book to doing a good deed. People who like to read are, generally speaking, thoughtful and engaged, moved by powerful stories and a sense of community.
So it made sense to the folks behind the Little Free Libraries to bring those two impulses together. (You remember Little Free Libraries, right? Those charming book-filled houses on a stick that you see in neighborhoods all over? Take a book, leave a book.)
Anyway, the folks who dreamed up the little libraries have a new plan: the Little Free Library Action Book Club. The way it works is pretty simple: Read a book, talk about it and then, inspired by what you read, go do something good. Walk dogs at the local animal shelter. Volunteer at the food shelf. Tutor a child. Pick up litter. Plant a community garden. Tons of possibilities.
“We know how books can inspire people,” said Margret Aldrich, program manager for Little Free Libraries in Minnesota. “We’ve all read a book that has spoken to us, informed us or woken us up. We’re hoping through the Action Book Club we can give some shape for that.”
Don’t be confused by the Little Free Library’s involvement; they are not suddenly stocking those little libraries with book club selections. What they are offering is ideas: ideas for books, and ideas for action.
You don’t have to have a Little Free Library in your yard to participate. It’s for anyone. Everyone.
Here’s how it works:
• Get some friends together — your existing book club, your neighbors, your buddies from work or church, your bowling team, whatevs.
• Go to littlefreelibrary.org and sign up. (Yes, it’s free. Little Free Library is a nonprofit.)
• Choose a book. The website has a list of recommendations — three lists, actually, for different age groups. Such as: “LaRose,” by Louise Erdrich; “A Man Called Ove,” by Fredrick Backman, and Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad.” Or choose a title of your own.
• Read the book. (Don’t skip that step. I’ve been in book clubs before; I know how this works.)
• Meet and discuss.
• Get inspired.
• Go do something!
“It can be something very small, or more ambitious,” Aldrich said. “You might read ‘A Man Called Ove’ and decide you’re all going to shovel sidewalks for your elderly neighbors. It might be something as simple as that. Or read ‘The Underground Railroad’ and explore social justice issues in a deeper way. Whatever speaks to you.”
The organizers make only one request — that you report back to them which book you read and which actions you took.
“That is really key for us,” Aldrich said. “We want to publish these experiences to our fans and friends and inspire this ripple effect of good work.”
During the pilot period last fall, a Minneapolis book club read “One Hundred Shadows” by Korean writer Hwang Jungeun, and then they joined a bike patrol to monitor the Midtown Greenway.
The Action Book Club went live in late January, and during the first two days nearly 200 groups signed up from across the country — from Hawaii to Florida, Texas to Connecticut, including a dozen from Minnesota.
They came from classrooms, Girl Scout troops, retirees, church groups, atheist groups, teachers and neighbors.
Anyone can do it. Just roll up your sleeves. Pick a book. And act.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books. On Twitter: @StribBooks. On Facebook: facebook.com/startribunebooks