By Emily J. Weitz
Sitting around a cozy table, martini poised between the index finger and the thumb, seems to be the perfect setting for a literary discussion. It’s reminiscent of Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds in the cafes of Paris. Writers and members of the literary world have gathered in restaurants and coffee shops to discuss the nuances of great works for generations. Here in Sag Harbor, the tradition continues as Phao and Bookhampton have begun to team up to offer weekly book groups over Thai food and cocktails.
Bookhampton has been working with local restaurants in the winters for a few years now. In East Hampton, gatherings at Rowdy Hall have developed a strong following. In Southampton, the Publick House is the backdrop for these guided discussions.
“We were looking for a venue to have a weekly reading group in Sag Harbor,” says Kim Lombardini, marketing manager at Bookhampton. “And then last summer Phao came to us to see if we’d like to collaborate.”
The relationship bloomed.
In the winter, when so many of the diversions that crowd the summer have vanished, it’s important to create a sense of community. And book groups do that brilliantly.
“When you’re in a discussion of a book,” says Lombardini, “everyone brings their own personal story. It’s not one-sided entertainment. Everyone brings a part of their life and personal point of view.” In this way, not only do you get to know other members of the community in a more intimate way. You also get to know the book in a fuller way.
“It opens up your eyes to other things the story might mean to someone else,” says Lombardini. “Gaps in your own reading or life can be filled in.”
Lombardini has organized the event at Phao, and she selected the readings that will be discussed. She will also moderate the conversation, asking questions.
“I do research on the author,” she says. “I give depth and background to the story.”
The authors she’s chosen for this first session were all groundbreaking in some way.
“I tried to span the second part of the 21st century looking for short stories by people who aren’t thought of as short story authors, like Roald Dahl,” she said. “Or those who are famous for creating a specific edgy style, like Raymond Carver or Sherman Alexi… Steven Millhouser is a personal favorite who’s known as an author of skewed short stories.”
She chose to work with short stories in part because they require less of a commitment. People can drop in one week and then pass the next week, and that’s fine.
The East Hampton book group has been reading “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett, and the author herself is going to come to the East Hampton store this Saturday, October 22 to participate in the discussion. The event is open to the public, and offers a great opportunity to come in and see what the book groups are like, though having the author there will be a special treat.
Collaborating in this way is a great way for businesses to draw in customers even as the crowds disperse. People don’t have to order anything, but the full menu is available at Phao, including the price fixed three-course menu for $25. It’s also good business for Bookhampton, which provides all the books at a 15 percent discount for book club members.
But perhaps the most exciting part of this kind of a collaboration is the people it brings together.
“Generally the people who come to a book group have more in common than the fact that they read the same book,” says Lombardini. “You meet similar minded people who share this love for reading.”
Book groups will take place every Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Phao on Main Street in Sag Harbor. The event is free and open to all, and there’s no commitment required. Though if this group follows the lead of the East Hampton and Southampton stores, it will develop a loyal following that will come back again and again.