While reading is a popular pastime and way to unwind from the world’s noise, it’s also a great way to get social. And the RGV Book Club monthly meetup is just the place.
In under a year of operation, the club has grown to have nearly 600 individuals in its Facebook group and 1,200 Instagram followers — many of whom regularly attend the meetings and socials.
Local attorney Iliana Villalobos founded the club at the end of 2021 as a way to encourage reading and provide a space for book lovers to connect, exchange ideas, and support local authors.
“Books have always been a major part of my life — both for education and for pleasure — and I believe that reading has so many positive effects,” she said. “One thing that I noticed since finishing law school is that it was easy to find and join different organizations that suit your interests when you’re a student, but there aren’t so many options for working adults.
“So, I had the idea to create something, and a book club is what immediately came to mind. I was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t take too much to get started or to take off.”
Villalobos put a call out on social media inviting anyone interested to join, then created a Facebook group to provide updates. As interest poured in for membership to the RGV Book Club, so did support.
Prior to the first official meeting to discuss the book, she held a social at her law firm to meet interested individuals, allow people to get to know one another, and take in ideas for the vision of the RGV Book Club.
“A goal of mine was to make RGV Book Club feel welcoming and inclusive — anyone can join and feel a sense of community,” Villalobos said. “Also, bookworms are often on the introverted side, so I like to start each meeting with introductions and icebreakers to help attendees feel more relaxed and comfortable.”
When it came time to plan for the first book discussion, a member offered her place of business, Iced Cube Mexican Street Eats McAllen, as a place to meet. Before long, the next few months of meetups were scheduled. They have been held at restaurants, offices, snack bars, art venues, and more.
“It’s been amazing to see people step up and offer to host or help in any other way,” Villalobos said. “Another cool thing we’ve been able to offer is raffle prizes due to our members being so generous and enthusiastic to keep our club going.”
Member Sarah Cardenas has hosted two meetings at the photography studio she co-owns, Snapix, and said that getting to support other local businesses is one of her favorite parts of the group.
“It provides you with the opportunity to visit new places in the RGV that you may not have been to before,” she said. “Also, it just provides an inviting environment for anyone who is wanting to get back into reading and meet new people in the process.”
She shared that prior to joining, she had not picked up a book in what felt like years.
“Now I’ve read at least six in this year alone,” Cardenas said.
Thus far, RGV Book Club has focused on works by Hispanic and/or local authors. Villalobos said she’s proud to help showcase the many talented authors from the Valley and always extends an invitation for them to join the meeting whenever possible.
“One thing that comes up a lot is that these books we read have helped people to tap into and embrace their Hispanic culture — especially for younger members who were not brought up so ‘traditionally,’” she said.
Reconnecting to reading is not the only reason why people have joined.
“The RGV Book Club has given me the opportunity to network and interact with people in the community who share similar interests,” Josh Lee Benavidez said. “The group provides us with a space to express our opinions on books and the importance of reading in our community — all while having fun.”
Member Rik Garza encourages anyone to join the warm community.
“I’ve made so many new friends; and as someone who loves to read, I’ve never really had a place where I can meet like-minded individuals who understand the importance of reading,” Garza said. “RGV Book Club has so much to offer to the average reader. Aside from motivation to read on a consistent basis, it provides a sense of belonging for someone who is passionate about literature.”
RGV Book Club Meetings are held once a month at various locations across the RGV. For more information, follow along on Instagram or join the Facebook group @RGVBookClub.