A room with a small stage in Lion’s Tail Brewing in Neenah is packed on a Monday in mid-March.
Folks from all walks of life filter into the brewery to participate in a monthly event to help even the busiest people continue to be lifelong readers.
As murmurs begin to fill the room, Librarian Richie Zaborowske takes the stage with a microphone to welcome folks to the Short Story Night.
“Hey, I’m Richie from the Neenah Public Library. Thanks for coming out,” he tells the crowd. “This is our fifth anniversary here, so let’s give it up for five years.”
Zaborowske hosts Short Story Nights once a month. It’s kind of like a book club. But instead of reading a book each month, the group reads one or sometimes a few short stories.
Zaborowske had the idea for Short Story Nights shortly after becoming a parent. He had two small children at home and wanted to start a traditional book club, but just didn’t have the time to read a whole book. He was too busy and he figured others were, too.
“There are people who may not have time for a traditional book club, so this would be a perfect option for them,” Zabrowske said.
Thus Short Story Nights were born. During the event, Zaborowske leads a conversation about the night’s story.
There’s also a trivia portion where attendees answer questions tied to the story’s theme. And sometimes, attendees even interview authors of the story they’re discussing.
“The short story events attract people from all different ages,” Zaborowske said. “Some people are working, but they’re busy and they have kids at home. We get college kids that come up from the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh, or Lawrence (University). We have people who are retired who want to do a little bit of reading.”
A sense of community
Over the last five years, a sense of community has been formed among attendees. That’s one of the things Zabrowske’s most proud of since starting the event.
“The Short Story Nights really produced a great community,” he said. “You hear about those third spaces all the time. Where can people get together nowadays? This, I think, is a great third space for people. We, a lot of times, have the same people come month after month.”
Regular attendees agreed with Zaborowske’s sentiments about the community forged discussing literature over adult beverages.
“When I first came, I didn’t know anybody,” said Fox Valley resident Doug Middleton. “I’ve gotten to know people, the ones of us who are sort of regulars. It’s always fun to sit at a table where I don’t know anybody.”
Fox Crossing resident Jill Harman has been going to Short Story Night since the beginning. Through the monthly event, she said she’s been able to get to know folks from all across the region.
“People come here from throughout the valley and it’s just a lot of fun seeing them again,” she said.
Neenah resident Mark Neuman is a regular attendee of Short Story Nights, along with his wife, Lisa. Neuman said the event gives him something to look forward to in the dog days of winter.
“We get to visit with people (who are) like minded, they’re literary, and you get to talk about concepts,” he said. “And (I’m) not watching college basketball, so it’s a nice break.”
While they all come for the camaraderie, many admit that Zaborowske’s infectious personality is what keeps them coming back. Just ask Harman.
“I’m a big fan of Richie’s. He started out almost being a stand-up comic. He’d tell us jokes about his family,” Harman said.
In fact, Zaborowske’s jokes caused the room to fill with laughter several times during the Short Story Night in March 2023.
For others, like Pat Rosenak, the back and forth between the audience and Zaborowske is what makes the event fun.
“We love to come and give Richie a hard time,” she said.
For one family, the event brings multiple generations together for a special night once a month.
Bob Schindler attends Short Story Night with his daughter, Carrie Wolf, and his granddaughter, Olivia Wolf.
“My parents are retired teachers and they’ve always been avid book lovers, so I just thought it would be a fun night out for them. We can take them out and they could enjoy a beer,” said Carrie Wolf.
Likewise, Schindler said he looks forward to the family outing, as well as meeting new people.
“Everybody likes to read in our family, the discussions are good and it’s fun to see what other people think about the story,” he said.
Looking at the world through a literary lens
Aside from the friendships forged, Short Story Nights also give people of all perspectives the opportunity to talk about current events through the lens of literature.
“Focusing on contemporary stories really allows us to have a conversation that spans all walks of life,” Zaborowske said. “I think it is a safe space where people can get together and voice their opinions.”
In March, the group discussed a pair of short stories that centered around second-generation immigrants.
“This is a story about the mother trying to assimilate into American culture in a different way than the daughter,” an attendee said of one story.
Whether young or old, rich or poor, Zaborowske said Short Story Night is an accessible way to enjoy literature and forge friendships — and the adult beverages don’t hurt either.
“I can’t say enough about the group. They’re just a great group and they’re a lot of fun,” he said. “No one takes it too seriously. We have a great discussion and everyone listens to each other and where they’re coming from. It’s been wonderful.”
SONG: “The Book I Read” by Talking Heads