By Petra Breen

The Groton Public Library Book Group starts its new season on September 25th with "In the Garden of Beasts" by Erik Larson.

The GPL Book Group distinguishes itself from others by being at once structured and relaxed. Member Janice Cote explains, "I've been in groups that require you to read all the selections and be there every month. We don't. Others are so informal that they fall apart. In our group, we decide on the book list at our potluck in June, and we give ourselves the summer to read a more challenging selection for September. Also, the library provides multiple copies of the selection so you don't have to buy it."

Member Kathy Reiff adds, "The library is very supportive, providing a room at the library and arranging for an annual guest author of one of the book selections as well as conference calls with authors."

Original member Sue Nordberg elaborates. "We stagger the length and seriousness based on the time of year. Some people come every month, some just once for a particular book, some to engage in discussion, others to listen to the discussion. Flexibility is key. You don't have to be a member. Our only requirement is if you put forth a selection in June and we pick it, then you lead the discussion that month."

Refreshments related to the book are provided by the leader for the month. For example, October's selection "The Tortilla Curtain" by T.C. Boyle will be discussed over light Mexican fare.

Occasionally a field trip to a relevant site takes place. When books covering Ralph Waldo Emerson and Isabella Stewart Gardner made the list, members who were able visited the R.W. Emerson Memorial House in Concord and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

This year's fiction and nonfiction selections cover topics from the serious to the whimsical, from Hitler's rise to power to illegal immigration to the magical memories of unsupervised children on a passenger boat to early onset dementia. The criteria is "will the book generate discussion?"

For Ken Crooks and Joanna Meighan, who joined as parents of small children, the book group was originally just "an excuse to get out, our date night of the month." A decade later, Ken says he is still inspired. Joanna loves the exchange of ideas that happens within the diverse group, and the unique relationships that develop because of it.

In April, the guest author will be Mary Johnson, author of "An Unquenchable Thirst: A Memoir," in which the author recounts her experiences as a nun in the Missionaries of Charity and examines her complicated relationship with Mother Teresa.

The group meets the fourth Tuesday of the month, September through June, from 7 to 8:45 p.m. Newcomers are encouraged to come for one book or to stay awhile. Member Becky Barth says, "We all get along, we have a good time, there's food, and someone always shows up and there's always room for one more!"

For the book list or for information, contact Ann Wilson, adult programs coordinator, at 978-448-1167 or go to www.gpl.org.