Last year I reviewed the first book in this series, The Cherry Cola Book Club, which resulted in some healthy dialog with the author. While I believe that Robert Kuehnle (pen name Ashton Lee) is a library supporter, and hopes to raise awareness of library funding issues with this series, my main issue with the book was his misrepresentation of public libraries. I felt that his representation of underused public libraries perpetuated a dangerously erroneous stereotype when most public libraries are seeing increased usage in spite of reduced funding. You can see that review, and the subsequent comments, here.
When Mr. Kuehnle sent me a message to let me know he would be releasing the next book in the series I decided to give it a read. The issues that I personally found concerning in the first book were not as evident in the second installment in the series. Maura Beth, the library director, and her supporters are busy with their lives and the continuation of their book club. Much of the book is centered on the personal lives and romantic relationships of the various town members. However, they continue to be concerned about future funding for the library as they were only given a year’s reprieve. The crooked politicians in the town seem chiefly concerned about creating an industrial park bearing their names, and using the funds currently allocated to the library to do so. Of course, the library is saved again, in an even more spectacular fashion. Personally, the way that it happened made me a little nauseous, and isn’t something that I would do. No matter how valuable I find public libraries to be, I need to be able to look at myself in the mirror each morning in spite of politics and behind-the-scenes wrangling.
If you liked the first book in the series, or like a quick read with small town characters, a little romance and a little literary focus, then this may be a series that you enjoy. For me, it still feels a little stilted and false, but for a light book to take to the beach you could definitely do worse.
Title: The Reading Circle
Author: Ashton Lee
Publication: Kensington House, March 2014
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I really didn’t like this book. I really wanted to – it’s the story of a small town librarian, Maura Beth, who has been told by the city council that she has until the end of the year to show the worth of her library or it will be closed. There is a cast of small town characters – a restaurant owner, an elderly genealogist, a retiree, a cooking show host – who rally around as Maura Beth starts the Cherry Cola Book Club in an attempt to boost library usage and secure their future funding.
Given the current state of library funding as a priority throughout the country, and the importance of libraries to their communities, this book could’ve been so much more than what it was – a sweet story with likable characters of a town pulling together to save their library – at least temporarily.
My frustration with the book was the author’s apparent lack of knowledge about libraries and librarians and what they actually accomplish in their communities. Maura Beth has been the director for six years, has virtually no one using the library, and this is the first time she’s trying to do something about it?! Reading this book I had a hard time understanding why she’d been getting paid at all for the past six years – the author made it seem like all she did was sit in her office and occasionally order some books. But now that her job is in jeopardy she thinks it might be important to do something more? And her miraculous plan is to start a book discussion group? Don’t get me wrong, book discussion groups are great – almost all libraries already have them along with computers, internet access, early literacy programming, summer reading programs, entertainers, movie nights, author presentations, computer classes, art classes, writing groups, teen groups, job hunting and continuing education resources, reference resources, GED and ESL classes…
The problem that libraries have is not a lack of use – many libraries are seeing increased usage year after year – the problem is a lack of public funding as budgets continue to shrink and public libraries attempt to support greater need with less resources – the problem is a lack of understanding about what libraries actually do and why it’s so important to our communities. Someone should write a book about that.
Title: The Cherry Cola Book Club
Author: Ashton Lee
Publication: Kensington, March 2013