Best book clubs for reading the classics

Haven’t read Moby-Dick or Ulysses? Tackle the celebrated canon with the help of these book clubs and literary groups.

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Illustration: Patrick McQuade


Didn't know Clueless was based on a Jane Austen novel? Was the last book you read Fifty Shades of Grey? Even if you've never been part of a book club, there's no need to be intimidated here. You are not alone: Band together with fellow lit-lovers to catch up on the classics you wish you had read at college.

Classics Book Group at WORD
Trade your boozy brunch for intoxicating literature and its far less punishing side effects. On the second Saturday of the month, bookish types who aren’t rattled by a little obscurity gather at the Greenpoint indie bookshop for some scholarly immersion. The intimate group of about five chooses books based on an annual theme: This year, members have stormed through a catalog of British fiction from the New York Review of Books classics list, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Exploits and Adventures of Brigadier Gerard; John Collier’s collection of bizarre short stories, Fancies and Goodnights; and maniacal, witty ’30s thriller Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household. A ten percent store discount is offered on all picks, and—if you need any more convincing—members often bring baked treats. 126 Franklin St at Milton St, Greenpoint, Brooklyn (718-383-0096, wordbrooklyn.com/classics-book-group). Second Sat of the month at noon; free.

Friday Night Reading Group at Barnes & Noble 86th Street
On the last Friday of the month, Barnes & Noble’s Upper East Side store opens its café or event room to literature lovers. Founded by an in-house bookseller in 2010, the group moved from its former home at the Lincoln Center location when the store closed last year. Past picks include Honoré de Balzac’s Eugénie Grandet, a 19th century French examination of miserliness; on November 30, the club will take on Stephanie Cowell’s Monet-inspired novel Claude and Camille. 150 E 86th St between Lexington and Third Aves (212-369-2180, barnesandnoble.com). Last Fri of the month at 7pm; free.

NYC Great Classics Book Club
Founded in August 2012, this club meets once a month in Tolstoyan tea shops and atmospheric wine parlors such as Radiance Tea House and the Pembroke Room. Don’t be fooled by the frilly settings; this is an in-depth, text-based survey of American and European novels such as The American by Henry James and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.  Books are selected by voting; the next batch of potentials is Anna Karenina, The Count of Monte Cristo, As I Lay Dying and Dubliners. Meetings cost $15 to cover food and drink, and are capped at 12 people, so R.S.V.P.-ing is a must. One weekend afternoon per month; $15. Locations and times vary, visit meetup.com/nyc-great-classics-book-club for more information.

Franklin Avenue Proust Society at Little Zelda
The zealous members of the Franklin Avenue Proust Society have dedicated themselves to a two-year trek through Marcel Proust’s colossal six-volume novel, In Search of Lost Time. The journey is long but club founder (and café owner) Michael de Zayas prescribes the manageable dose of 40 pages a week (the math is exact) to finish by October, 2014. The group meets every Sunday at Zayas’s Crown Heights coffee shop Little Zelda, and always kicks off with a special ritual: A madeleine (a reference from the novel) is dipped into a cup of tea, a candle is passed around, and members take turns reciting their favorite lines from that week’s reading. The group began in August and is now a few hundred pages into volume one; newbies are welcome but are asked to read the most recent 40 pages to help facilitate discussion. 728 Franklin Ave between Park and Sterling Pls, Crown Heights, Brooklyn (917-499-3244, facebook.com/littlezelda). Sun 8pm; free.


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