MODESTO — It's a struggle that has afflicted many an avid reader:
Your book club decides on this month's read, you go to the library to pick it up, and drat all the copies have been checked out and none of them are due back soon.
The Stanislaus County Library, a big fan of book clubs, has a program that will help.
Called Book Club in a Box, it's just what it sounds like. The library provides a requested number of copies of a book, along with some analysis material and questions to start a discussion.
"It's really nice," said Marlene Settle, who belongs to a club affiliated with the Riverbank branch of the library. "You don't have to worry about buying them."
Funded through grants, as well as donations from book clubs and others, the program serves five counties all the members of the 49-99 library consortium, which includes Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Tuolumne, Calaveras and Amador counties. It's operated from the Salida branch library, where assistant Isabel Figueroa handles inquiries and requests.
Each club must have one library-card-bearing member, who checks out the box for an amount of time that's negotiated on an individual basis Book Club in a Box operates outside the normal checkout system.
Roughly 100 titles are available, ranging from best-selling fiction to biographies.
Diane Bartlett, who runs the Salida branch, said the program is aimed mainly at adults, though there are some young-adult and children's books. "The one thing we really stay away from is classics, since those tend to be pretty available."
Settle said the program encourages readers to pick up books they might not otherwise choose.
Nancy McNatt, a Friends of the Library and book club member in Salida, agreed. She said discussions with members get heated and passionate. "We'll be outside the library, when the doors are still locked, talking about the book already," she said.
The clubs have led members to form new friendships a fellow member called McNatt last week, wanting to know if she'd finished the current book "because I need to talk to someone about it."
Book Club in a Box has been available for several years, but it's grown in popularity. And though there are some who have moved to electronic readers, the appeal of a book is still strong enough to attract a devoted following (books on CD and large-print volumes also are available).
Sometimes, it still can be hard to get copies of the book you really want, so officials ask clubs to provide a couple of titles. And, Figueroa said, she will suggest another title that might appeal if a club's first choice is unavailable.
The program even has established a kinship among readers who won't ever meet one another. For one title, there were no handouts available, so McNatt came up with her own questions and included it when returning the box.
"There's a real feeling of camaraderie with other book clubs," she said.
For more information, go to http://stanislauslibrary.org/ involve_events.shtml#box or call (209) 558-7800.
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.