An initiative of the American Library Association

Unique Book Clubs in the American Riviera (Santa Barbara, Calif.)

By Robin Hoklotubbe, Book Club Central Project Coordinator

The City of Santa Barbara, California is often referred to as “The American Riviera,” with its miles of beautiful coastline, classic Spanish architecture, first-class dining and hotels, and the fact it’s home to one of the famous California Missions (est. 1786). The city also has an active and popular library system with a dynamic book collection and popular programming/events.

The Santa Barbara Library hosts many book clubs for their diverse readership base; however, two of its book clubs are quite unique. Both are led by community relations librarian Jace Turner. I met up with Jace in January, and here is what I learned.

The Theater Book Club has been meeting at the library for more than five years, and partners with the Ensemble Theatre Company. Four to five times a season, and about three weeks before a production, the library will provide 10 copies of the current opera for its book club members to read for one week. The book club is led by Turner and the production’s dramaturg (the literary adviser or editor in a theater, opera, or film company who researches, selects, adapts, edits, and interprets scripts, libretti, texts, and printed programs, consults with authors, and does public relations work).

The dramaturg offers a very unique perspective to the discussions, and Turner shared that the partnership is "invaluable, because if someone cannot attend or afford to attend an opera performance, this book club can expose them to this cultural activity.” Around 10-15 attend each book club and sometimes they are invited to view a dress rehearsal.

New this year is the Opera Book Club, which is partnering with Opera Santa Barbara. Organized similar to the Theater Book Club, this new book club offers an opportunity to learn more about the libretto (the text of an opera) and translation of the latest production.

The third unique book club began one year ago and meets at the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center in Santa Barbara. Youngmi An is the Cancer Center’s librarian, and works with the library in making sure the monthly book choices do not have story lines that include cancer. Youngmi shared that you do not need to be a cancer patient to participate, although some are caregivers to patients or cancer survivors. She added that when the book club first launched in February 2018, patients shared that it was an incentive to engage with others and an encouraging activity for those that needed to take their minds off their treatments. The monthly book choices can be checked out at the Cancer Center library or the public library. Their March book club read is An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.

For more information about these programs or the Santa Barbara Public Library, visit


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