Members of a Las Maris de Charlotte book club recently wore Venezuelan flag colors for their discussion of “The Adventures of Juan Planchard.”

Book Binge

Readers seek titles behind hit shows, enjoy clubs and podcasts

By Nan Bauroth | Photos by Ray Sepesy

If you want to know what book lovers in Ballantyne are reading, find out what they’re watching. “The big trend is patrons wanting to read the books behind movies or TV series they have recently seen,” says Christine Bretz, librarian at South County Regional Library.

Examples include “Big Little Lies” by Liane Moriarty and “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn, both hit HBO series. “Crazy Rich Asians,” part of a trilogy by Kevin Kwan, was a box-office hit in 2018, and the book, released in 2013, surged to No. 1 on USA Today’s bestseller list in August.

The memoir “All Who Go Do Not Return” was Ballantyne Book Club’s No. 1 pick in 2018 based on member voting.
“Crazy Rich Asians,” part of a trilogy by Kevin Kwan, was a box-office hit in 2018, and the book, released in 2013, surged to No.1 on USA Today’s bestseller list in August.
“The big trend is patrons wanting to read the books behind movies or TV series.” One example is ‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty, which became a hit HBO series.
— Christine Bretz, librarian, South County Regional Library
“Anything with politics has been hot. Bob Woodward’s book ‘Fear’ has been a bestseller.”
— Demetrius Irick, Barnes & Noble store manager, Carolina Place Mall

Demetrius Irick, store manager at the Barnes & Noble (B&N) at Carolina Place Mall in Pineville, is also seeing the “watch first, read later” phenomenon. “Our customers watch a Netflix series and want to get the book because it has details that may have been left out of the show,” he explains.

This shift comes as a welcome surprise to booksellers and librarians, not to mention writers and publishers, who feared that visual media would spell the end of books. But the opposite is happening, with mass audiences for movies and TV shows propelling sales of the books behind them.

The written word is certainly alive and well in Ballantyne. Laura Highfill, manager of South County Regional Library, reports that one million items were circulated out of the branch last year, with an average of 1,000 people walking through the library’s doors every day — making it the highest-trafficked branch in the system. In addition, two B&N stores in the Ballantyne area (Carolina Place and Arboretum Shopping Center) serve the growing appetite of avid readers.

Monica Guerra often reads her book club’s selections on her cell phone.

When discussing a Syrian novel this fall, members of Guerra’s book club prepared a spread of Middle Eastern foods.
Reading books on digital devices and socializing with friends in book clubs are two literary trends in Ballantyne and beyond.

Book Clubbing

Book clubs in the Ballantyne area reflect diverse audiences and include a Latin women’s group whose members hail from Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries. Monica Guerra, who likes to read on her cellphone while awaiting clients, says her book club is one of four founded by members of Las Maris de Charlotte, an organization of 250 Latin women around the city.

Guerra’s book club meets at a different member’s home each month for brunch and a book discussion. Members bring dishes related to the title being discussed. Recently they focused on Middle Eastern food to tie in with “No es tiempo de Morir” (“It’s Not Time to Die”), a novel set in Syria by Margarita Dager-Uscocovich, a club member.

“I have made many good friends,” Guerra says, “and we read so many interesting books.”

Ballantyne resident Suzanne Zeitouni belongs to six local book clubs because she likes the variety of the groups. “Each has its own flavor,” she says, noting that she has attended the Ballantyne Book Club since it started about 10 years ago. “We have a nice mix of working men and women who enjoy a glass of wine or beer and discussing a book,” Zeitouni says.

Shelly Johnson heads up the club and supplied a list of its 2018 titles (see below). “In December everyone makes suggestions for the next year and we vote,” she says. “We tend to focus on award-winning books, not necessarily bestsellers.”

At the regional library, the Rea Road Readers Club has been around for 20 years. “Members prefer historical works, including historical and contemporary fiction,” Bretz says. The branch also sponsors the Mystery Book Club and the Outlander Book Club, which is based on Diana Gabaldon’s popular books made into a STARZ network TV series.

At B&N in Pineville, readers can join the store’s bimonthly evening book club. “Our October selection was “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green,” Irick notes.

Gone Digital

When it comes to reading formats, Bretz and Irick say local readers have their own preferences. Some like e-books. Others still want the physical book. But sales of e-audio books are growing because so many cars no longer have CD players; thus, there’s the need for books in a digital format that people can download on their smartphone or tablet.

Local bookworms are also joining the podcast craze. “I follow ‘Modern Mrs. Darcy,’ which talks about books and authors,” says Beth Klepar. “I’ve gotten some good recommendations.” B&N offers its own podcast, as well as Browsery, an app that lets readers seek recommendations from the virtual community.

Kimberly Antolini loves to read but is hooked on “How I Built This” with Guy Raz on NPR radio, and just started following the Washington Post podcast “Presidential,” a historical series about each American president. The podcast that local readers like Julie Weilacher are all raving about, though, is the true crime comedy “My Favorite Murder” with Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark. It seems there is no end in the Ballantyne area to the ability of readers to binge on whatever content they love the most. 

“Anything having to do with politics is hot. Bob Woodward’s book ‘Fear’ has been a bestseller.”

— Demetrius Irick, Barnes & Noble

Ballantyne Book Club’s Reading List

Members of the Ballantyne Book Club select their annual reading list in December, so at press time in late fall, the 2019 list wasn’t yet announced.

The 2018 list, however, illustrates reading trends in the Ballantyne area — such as books tied to popular TV series, mystery thrillers, historical/political fiction and local stories. Of the club’s 11 selections, nine were fiction and two nonfiction.

  • “All Who Go Do Not Return” by Shulem Deen, 2015, memoir, 288 pages (The club’s No. 1 pick based on member voting.)
  • “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah, 2016, nonfiction, 304 pages
  • “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green, 2017, fiction, 304 pages
  • “Dinner at the Center of the Earth” by Nathan Englander, 2017, fiction, 272 pages
  • “Sleeping Beauties” by Stephen King and Owen King, 2017, fiction, 720 pages
  • “The Tsar of Love and Techno” by Anthony Marra, 2016, fiction, 384 pages
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, 2015, fiction, 311 pages
  • “The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home” by Denise Kiernan, 2017, nonfiction, 400 pages
  • “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward, 2017, fiction, 304 pages
  • “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury, 1962, fiction, 352 pages
  • “The Girl Who Chased the Moon” by Sarah Addison Allen, 2011, fiction, 304 pages

Local Writer Buzz

Other signs of the burgeoning literary scene in the Ballantyne area are Warren Publishing, a local business owned by Mindy Kuhn; book signings at Barnes & Noble (B&N) in Pineville; and an ongoing Adult Writing Group at the South County Regional Library.

Although Kuhn publishes books by any author, the number penned by Ballantyne-area residents keeps growing, she says. Local author signings are also so popular that B&N in Pineville now holds monthly signings that feature five local authors at a time.

The Adult Writing Group meets from 10 a.m. to noon the last Friday of the month in the library’s conference room. Writers may bring up to three, single-spaced pages, or six, double-spaced pages of something they’ve written and receive feedback from other writers. The group is open to all skill levels and genres.