Book Club Profile: Blazing Trails in Independence

The Trailblazers book group has called the Trails West Branch of the Kansas City Public Library home for almost ten years. They started gathering to discuss reading in April of 2001 at the behest of then-branch-staffer Jackie Brown. Brown has since joined the Facilities team at the Central Library, but she left behind a loyal group of readers who have welcomed their new facilitator, Nancy Oelke.

The eclectic band of readers are open to almost any kind of books (except for horror, they freely admit) and have definite favorites from the past years. Stand-out titles include The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry (“Jackie brought cucumber sandwiches and fresh-squeezed lemonade!” one clubber remembers), Portrait in Sepia by Isabelle Allende (flan!), and Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen.

The ‘Blazers aren’t shy about naming less popular selections. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson wasn’t on their list of best books ever, and neither was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The group has since discovered that the more literary titles are not to their collective taste and gravitate toward fiction and nonfiction with a stronger focus on story and pacing.

Though the Trailblazers are a lively group, Oelke is always looking for ways to keep discussions active. Every December, the group holds its meeting in a local restaurant, and instead of talking about a specific book, the members trade suggestions for good reading from the past year and possible titles for discussion in the coming year.

Oelke likes pairing books with movies and strongly encourages the members to attend special Library events featuring authors of books the group has read. Many members of the Trailblazers have caught presentations by Chris Crutcher, Tobias Wolff, Steve Lopez, and Jacqueline Guidry.

A canny leader who writes a regular book review column for local paper the Examiner, Oelke also makes special efforts to get authors to visit the group via teleconference. Recently the group had a visit from Sharon Kay Penman, who discussed her historical novels and historical mysteries via speakerphone. Adriana Trigiani, too, was a favorite with her lively commentary and warm friendly tones. Lorna Landvik also dropped in via phone and amazed the entire group when they realized that she had memorized all their names by matching them with their voices. “We were pretty impressed by that,” Oelke said.

The Trailblazers are looking forward to vigorous conversation in the New Year as they start it off with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain in conjunction with the Library’s Winter Reading Program theme, Altered States.

Though the Trailblazers have been around for nearly a decade, they’re always welcoming new members to join them on the third Saturday of the month. If you’d take part in Independence, Missouri’s hardiest reading circle, contact Oelke at or by calling 816.701.8311.

About the Author

Kaite Stover

Kaite Mediatore Stover is the Head of Readers’ Services for the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR's Book Doctors segment and moderator of The Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. She can tap dance, read tarot cards, and doesn’t bite.