By Serena Bodine-Clark

When California shut down due to the pandemic, many of us turned to books for comfort, and the Crocker Art Museum’s Official Rogue Book Club was born.

The title, which makes us laugh to read it, is a nod to a book club that I and a few other dedicated Crocker volunteers and members started a few years ago. A labor of love, it was not sanctioned by the Museum, but definitely fun while it lasted no less. As its coordinator, the books I chose were related to art, and I frequently tied them to current or upcoming exhibitions. The books, then and now, have been a range of fiction and non-fiction, historical and contemporary, memoir to short story.

When the doors of the Crocker closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Museum’s Director of Education, Stacey Shelnut-Hendrick reached out to me to see if we could continue the book club virtually. And thus, my rogue book club became The Official Rogue Book Club, taking place monthly via Zoom since May 2020.

The Book Club has been a great success with up to 66 participants, including attendees from across the country. I continue to research books and lead discussions, and Stacey and I have been joined by the Museum’s director of visitor and building services Michelle Maghari-Dong, who is an avid reader of all types of books. There have been guest speakers, collaborations with community groups; but most importantly rich conversations about life. Some of our most fascinating conversations have been about humanity, language, the role of history, class, race, mental illness, and much more. Key to our book club are our discussions about art: art in our lives, how art affects us, what art is, and what it takes to be creative and “an artist.” Each session has an "Art Moment," which is the true unique aspect of The Official Rogue Book Club. The art moment features a deep look at a work of art or two that connects to the reading. Art Moments are done by the Crocker’s docents and offer a different lens to think and talk about the books.

At a time when many of us were isolated, the book club was a way to keep us connected to the Museum, the community we love, and most of all each other.

Now that the world has opened up, we are continuing the book club through the end of the year (see 2nd Thursdays starting in September 2021), and we hope more folks will join us. We continue to choose an eclectic mix of books, as evidenced by the works we’ve tackled so far (see our full reading list below).

I hope you’ll join us as we dive into another series of exciting readings that tie back to the art world, the Crocker’s permanent collection and the blockbuster shows you can see at the Museum.

How to Paint a Dead Man
-Sarah Hall
-January 20

Harlem Shuffle
-Colson Whitehead
-February 17

The Personal Librarian
-Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray
-March 17th

The Monuments Men
-Robert Edsel
-April 21st

The Official Rogue Book Club’s Past Reading List:

Sargent's Women: Four Lives Behind The Canvas
-Donna M Lucey

Happiness: 25 Ways To Live Joyfully Through Art
-Christophe Andre

An American Marriage: A Novel
-Tayari Jones

Optic Nerve
-Maria Gainza

The Picture of Dorian Gray
-Oscar Wilde

An Object of Beauty
-Steve Martin

Hitting a Straight Lick With A Crooked Stick
-Zore Neale Hurston

There There
-Tommy Orange

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michaelangelo And Me
-Ellen Forney

Clara And Mr. Tiffany
-Susan Vreeland