Service of Book Clubs: Tips From a Pro

April 5th, 2021

Categories: Book Club, Books, Reading

Deb Wright

I asked Deb Wright to share what’s happening with book clubs in her Chicago suburb. You’ll soon see why she is qualified to cover the subject.

Deb leads two and is active in an additional two. She heads Shakespeare Readers Theater and co-directs a Great Books group while participating in Louse Penny and woman’s book clubs. Deb’s secret to keeping up with all those books: She speed reads while retaining what she reads.

She says eight is the ideal number of participants so there’s time for each to chime in. With Deb–and another retired teacher who is in three of the groups–a wandering or diverted discussion doesn’t have a chance. They are there to discuss books. Men and women participate equally in Shakespeare Readers Theater and Great Books.

As with most things, the pandemic has wreaked havoc on club activities. “In some odd way I feel on vacation! I don’t have quite so many to-do lists,” Deb said. Nevertheless, “everyone I’ve spoken to has been reading political, fiction and non-fiction on subjects they’ve wanted to explore.”

Photo: Shakespeare.org.uk

All four of her groups passed on Zoom meet ups although she says that the public library in her town continues its discussions via this cloud-based video communications app.

The women’s book club, made up largely of League of Women Voters members, normally meets in a bookstore. Members have stayed in touch through email. “This group always chooses a non-fiction book or sometimes a biography. We don’t meet in July and August.” There’s a list of some of the books the club read last year after the last photo of this post.

The Great Books group–that should meet monthly in the town’s Chamber of Commerce–is on hold. This 37 year old club, that Deb founded with her co-leader, hopes to resume in fall with a new anthology. There is one Poetry Night a year.

Because most of the members of the Shakespeare Reader’s Theater are seniors hesitant to meet in person during the pandemic, it, too, is on hold. Deb is one of three planners, one of whom is a retired teacher and a Shakespeare scholar, theater director and actor. Deb said: “We choose part of a play and volunteers read the selections. I do the explaining, kind of ‘in the meantime, Richard murdered…’ So I give the what’s happening between the scenes.” There’s also a great actor with a wonderful voice in the group who, with his wife, started a summer theater in town.

The Louise Penny group will meet again in August when Penny’s next book is released moving on then–back to once a month–to another well-written mystery series by Charles Todd whose main character is Ian Rutledge. They gather in the banquet-size heated garage of a member. It boasts superlative ventilation and quantities of space for participants to distance six+ feet apart. Penny is the author of mystery novels set in Quebec. The Canadian author’s main character is Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.

Deb taught language arts [English] to all grades in a Chicago school but mostly 8th–adding American History from 1865 to the present the last five years. She’s also an artist and avid gardener. In addition to her garden and grounds, she cares for almost 100 indoor plants, four cats, an old house and her young grandchildren for weekly play dates. This summer she volunteered to tutor three first graders who didn’t cotton to remote and hybrid learning.

Have you belonged to a book club? Do you have questions for Deb?

Photo: amazon.com

Following are some of the books the woman’s book club read last year:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens; Beloved** by Toni Morison; The Land of Sea Women by Lisa See; Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan; Before We were Yours by Lisa Wingate; Born A Crime by Trevor Noah; The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict and The Girl With Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee. Deb added: “There were a couple of others but they were not worth reading.”

Deb said “**Beloved was almost too difficult to read; I would not read it at this point in time. We also read Educated by Tara Westover at the end of the previous year. Worth reading but intense–one of those triumphs of the human spirit.”

 

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9 Responses to “Service of Book Clubs: Tips From a Pro”

  1. ASK Said:

    Not really a fan of book clubs, having been involved with 2 of them in the past. They seem to suffer from either too much socializing or a leader who is a little too didactic, although I am sure some groups need a guiding hand. I also am not fond of historical fiction (Where does the fiction start and the history end?), and I am probably one of the few people who found Delia Owens’ book beyond belief. I like to browse on my own, and also welcome suggestions from good friends.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    ASK,

    After a work lifetime of deadlines I tend to shy away from self-inflicted ones [commuting from suburbs having to catch the 6:09 as another example] though the idea of meeting with like-minded people appeals far more than say social clubs with no purpose.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Book clubs are great for a number of folks, or so I hear. As one favoring particular topics, favorite authors, and at times, areas of study, they’re not for me.

    As a student, eons ago, a popular prof led a similar type of group, and those of us involved were deeply engaged. Sadly, I haven’t run into so deeply committed and knowledgeable a crowd, holding similar objectives, again.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    If you lived near Deb and one of the four groups sparked your interest I suspect you would appreciate her no-nonsense “we’re here to discuss XYZ today” approach, eliminating the idol chitchat I’ve been told happens at what for some become purely social gatherings.

    I speak with three women almost weekly and at times we share book titles. It’s not a club, but it’s fun to hear what someone who has read the same book thinks about it.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Yeah, perhaps if someone could tell me how not to get dumped by a favorite (bridge) partner for giving him a lousy game. Any takers? PS Out of the dozens publications yearly, there must be a book for that!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Lucrezia,

    Your question is above my pay grade. The partner can’t be very smart to have dumped you as from what I’ve heard, you are top of the game. That said, you may be hearing from him again when he sees what else is available.

    But you inspire an interesting question which I will ask Deb: Has she ever had to drop a book club participant?

  7. Deb Wright Said:

    No. There have been some odd and argumentative folks who have showed up to Great Books. One man refused to leave his anger after we read “The Lottery “ by Shirley Jackson.” He finally stopped coming!

    In our other three groups there is one woman who is combative. She is a staunch Republican (but she did hate Trump). She is very bright but she sees the world in black and white. There are no grays. But she will let me or Amy steer her away from ranting and taking over.

  8. MarthaTakayama Said:

    I have never belonged to a book club, but often have thought about joining one. I have a dear friend who is Palistani and lives in the Philippines and I know enjoys belonging to one. She is very intellectual (the daughter of a poet)and I think seems to enjoy both. It provides both thoughtful exchange and also a certain social warmth.For her as an expatriate it also generates a sense of community.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    I think that the social connection to people who share a common interest is part of the charm. It also gives a person new connections away from their work and family lives.

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