Auburn Oil Co. began offering southern literature and young adult book clubs this summer. Like other enjoyable things of the past, the book clubs don’t happen face-to-face.
The store is about to start up their fall clubs. The groups held their inaugural meetings in May of this year, and wrapped up the summer club in early August. The clubs meet once a month to discuss the book they’ve read, and continue for four months to complete all four books.
The first meeting of the southern literature book club was somewhat small, the group’s moderator Angela Wilhite said.
“I’m visualizing our Zoom meeting screen,” Wilhite joked, trying to recall the amount of members in the club. It was four, at that first meeting, she remembered, not including that week’s special guest.
“We read ‘The Magnetic Girl’ by Jessica Handler, and she lives over in Atlanta, and came to our Zoom meet- ing and was so charming, so nice,” Wilhite said. “A virtual book club is not as appealing as an in-person one, but that was definitely a nice bonus to have her there.”
Wilhite, 44, said she enjoyed hearing Handler speak. She enjoyed the ladies that are in the club with her, and she is certainly a fan of being inventory manager at the bookstore.
“It’s the best job ever,” she said. “It’s like Christmas everyday.”
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Wilhite has lived in Auburn for 12 years, and her love of books drew her to start working at the — who would have guessed it? — bookstore.
“Auburn is such a neat place,” Wilhite said. “I can’t believe it’s taken this long for us to get an independent bookstore in town. I do think we’re’ filling that niche.”
The clubs were planned as a way to get the community involved at the bookstore, originally as a typical club, with face-to-face meetings. As the pandemic came along, they were finishing up their plans for the club. So, they had to shift to a virtual venue, which poses its own set of challenges.
“You know, when you’re sitting together in a group, it’s just a different feeling,” Wilhite said. “There’s a different rapport that you get when you’re face-to-face, versus with technology, somebody might have a little bit of a lag or their screen might freeze. There’s just some obstacles to building that rapport.”
Auburn Oil Co. hoped to shift the fall book clubs back in-person, but the current state of the pandemic has led the business to keep the meetings online. Wilhite and Kenzie Barrett, who moderates the young adult book club, are there to try and establish that sense of community despite the hindrances that online meetings can have.
“We are just there to kind of moderate and move it along and add comments whenever we need to or can, and just help with that sense of community and actual feeling ... like there’s people, even if you can’t be with them at a physical book club,” Barrett said. Barrett, who is a junior studying accounting at Auburn University, is a bookseller and barista at Auburn Oil Co., meaning she’s one of the faces you see when you enter the bookstore. She also started working at the business when it first opened last October.
“I actually just saw a sign in the window while walking to class, and even though I am an accounting major, coffee and books are like my two favorite things,” she said.
The chance to lead a book club was extended to all the employees of the store to see who was interest- ed, and Barrett took the opportunity. The young adult book club got off to a slower start than the southern literature group this summer, she said, but more participants joined thanks to marketing on social media.
The clubs have already selected their books for the fall club, which begin on Sept. 6. ‘A Good Neighborhood’, ‘The Book of Lost Friends’, ‘The Awakening’ and ‘The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls’ are on the list for southern literature. For the young adult club, the selections are ‘Lovely War’, ‘Yes No Maybe So’, ‘Layoverland’ and ‘These Witches Don’t Burn’.
Wilhite and Barrett both hope that in-person meetings will be possible soon. Zoom will have to do, for now.
“I really hope we can keep doing these. I think they’re really great, since community and people [are] pretty much the basis of a bookstore,” Barrett said. “I’m excited to do more when we can meet not-online, but I think online is great for now.”
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman