PITTSBURG — Before he was the author of a novel described as “downright dazzling” by the New York Times, Steve Weddle was a graduate student at Pittsburg State University.

Starting this week, his book, “Country Hardball,” also carries another special distinction: it’s the first selection of the newly started Gorilla Alumni Book Club for PSU alumni and friends.

The club is virtual, operated through Facebook by PSU Alumni & Constituent Relations and Axe Library. But with some selections, like the second book in the club series, “Facing the Music: My Story” by Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jennifer Knapp, readers will have opportunities to meet with the author. Knapp will be on campus Feb. 22 for a concert at the Bicknell Center for the Arts and is making time for a live book introduction.

Joining Knapp for the book discussion comes with a bonus: a $5 ticket discount for her concert.

Alumni and friends interested in participating in the Gorilla Alumni Book Club may sign up online at pittstate.edu/alumni and join the closed Facebook group in which readers can discuss the current book and network with one another.

The group will read one book approximately every two months. A few copies of each book will be made available through Axe Library and, when possible, Pittsburg Public Library, for those who live in the area. They also may be ordered on Amazon, Walmart, Barnes & Noble, and as e-books; links will be provided on the book club web page.

Ruth Monnier, learning outreach librarian at Axe Library, will serve as moderator and will post questions in the Facebook group each Wednesday for readers to discuss. As of Jan. 15, the club had 82 members.

“I’m excited about how alumni readers are reacting and how our alumni authors are reacting to it,” Monnier said. “I think it will be very fun. It has a lot of potential.”

Danielle Driskill, assistant director of alumni and constituent relations, also commented on the new book club.

"This is a neat opportunity to increase alumni engagement all over the nation from the comfort of their own homes,” Driskill said. “We have alumni participating from New York to Pittsburg to Texas to Florida and so on. The book club also allows alumni to connect socially, reconnect with PSU, and the added element of reading books by PSU authors is just another bonus."

To join the club, visit www.pittstate.edu/alumni/gorilla-alumni-book-club.html. For more information, contact Danielle Driskill at ddriskill@pittstate.edu or Ruth Monnier at rmonnier@pittstate.edu.

About Country Hardball:

After more than a decade spent in and out of juvenile detention, halfway houses, and jail, Roy Alison returns to his rural hometown determined to do better, to be better. But what he finds is a working-class community devastated by the economic downturn — a town without anything to hold onto but the past.

Staying with his grandmother, Roy discovers a family history of good intentions and bad choices, of making do without much chance of doing better. Around him, families lose their sons to war, hunting accidents, drugs. And Roy, along with the town, falls into old patterns established generations ago.

It’s been described by reviewers as "a powerfully observed and devastatingly understated portrait of the American working class.”