New book club commits to reading banned and challenged books every month

When Andrea Richmond began offering a feature section of banned and challenged books at her Leopard Print Books pop-up events, she was met with overwhelming positivity and gratitude from shoppers.

Andrea Richmond (Photo courtesy of Leopard Print Books, Gifts & Curiosities)Then, shortly after, she was having a conversation over coffee with one of her guest readers, Scott Ellis, Executive Director of Great Lakes Bay Pride, where he threw out the idea that she should form a banned book club.

Richmond, proprietress of Leopard Print Books, Gifts, and Curiosities, 925 N. Water St. in Downtown Bay City, thought that this was the impetus she needed to offer people throughout the region a time and place to discuss some of the current controversial titles; and so, the Banned Book Club was born.

“Personally, one of my goals in life is to uplift people, and I think to do that you need to understand or be open to understanding people of diverse backgrounds and interests and ethnicities so you can understand them and find a way to connect and uplift,” Richmond says.

The Banned Book Club held its first meeting in December to discuss 'The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,' by Sherman Alexie.Banning books is certainly a hot topic. During the 2021-2022 school year, over 1,600 book titles were banned from school libraries across the United States, according to CBS News. The number of titles on the is on the rise as books with certain themes, such as race/racism, LGBTQ, activism, and sexual content, are being challenged frequently. Some are ultimately banned.

“Our country can be pretty divisive, and this is one way I can contribute to fostering understanding of different people, different backgrounds, different behaviors and ideas,” Richmond explains.

The Banned Book Club got underway at LoLoBee’s Lounge, 106 S. Linn St., in December to discuss “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” by Sherman Alexie. Most recently, readers met again at Live Oak in Saginaw to discuss “Maus,” by Art Spiegelman.

Each month, the club will rotate locations throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region to discuss the newest book. Richmond says her thought was “Let’s spread it around a little bit throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region and see what happens.”
Upcoming Banned Book Club meetings include:
  • Tues., Feb. 7 – “All Boys Aren’t Blue,” by George M. Johnson (Live Oak, Midland)
  • Tues., March 7 – “The Glass Castle,” by Jeanette Walls (LoLoBee’s Lounge, Bay City)
  • Tues., April 4 – “Gender Queer,” by Maia Kobabe (Live Oak, Saginaw)
All book club meetings begin at 6:30 pm and are open to the general public. A complete schedule can be found on the Leopard Print website.

The number of books being challenged is on the rise. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Veitengruber)“I would love to have a mix of people, all different ages and backgrounds, at a book club. It all would make the experience richer. Even if you haven’t read the book, it is still okay to show up and be part of the conversation or just listen. There can be a lot of pressure with book clubs. I want this to be low pressure and fun and good conversation,” Richmond says.

If you’re looking to get your hands on one of the upcoming titles, there are many ways to do so. While there are a limited number of copies for sale within the physical store, located within The Vintage Greenhouse, other options exist.

Richmond is happy to help community members gain access.

Andrea Richmond was inspired to create the Banned Book Club after customers responded positively to an in-store display of books that had been challenged. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Veitengruber)“People can go to my website and order online or contact me directly and I will be happy to order it for them. My online store is part of a larger organization called Bookshop.org, and they are a response to Amazon for indie book sellers. Leopard Print gets a percentage of the sale and the other indie bookstores that are part of Bookshop.org.”

Richmond adds, “I also have an affiliation with Libro.Fm, the independent bookstore’s answer to Audible. At Libro.fm you can search Leopard Print and a portion of your purchase goes to Leopard Print.”

The selection for the February meeting of the Banned Books Club is 'All Boys Aren’t Blue,' by George M. Johnson. The meeting will be held at Live Oak Coffeehouse in Midland. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Veitengruber)Richmond’s small business venture began in May of 2019; however, she set up shop in a booth at its current location in June of 2021 when it was home to The Sunshine Shoppe.

“I had a pop-up event, I believe at Sushi Remix, and the owner of The Sunshine Shoppe, Marie Barba, popped in and said she would love to have Leopard Print in the store. I said, ‘OK, let’s talk,’ “ Richmond says.

“It was a perfect situation. I work full time and I am not in the position right now to have my own store and have that be my full-time job. That was my first physical space.”

In July of 2022, the current owner, Kelli Wilson of Mayville, moved in. Luckily, it was still a good fit for Richmond who works remotely from Saginaw as a full-time marketing strategist for an online health and wellness service provider.

Richmond has a strong vision for her bookstore in the future but is content for the time being.

Leopard Print Books, Gifts & Curiosities is an independent bookstore based in Bay City. Owner Andrea Richmond poses at a summer pop-up shop. (Photo courtesy of Leopard Print Books, Gifts & Curiosities)“I have a very vivid idea of what I want in my mind. I am waiting for the stars to align so I can bring that vision to fruition. I would love to have my own space and have a full-fledged bookstore complete with the various things you love about a bookstore … a place to sit and read and have conversations with other people,” Richmond says.

“I want to provide books that cause people to think differently and to think and explore other people’s cultures and experiences because I believe that plays into a more cohesive and connected community instead of staying in your own lane, so to speak, and just reading what you know.”