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November 12, 2009

Book Club Longevity: Farmington Woods Book Group

Posted by webmaster
What makes a reading group stay together for an incredible two decades...and often even longer? Earlier this week we introduced V&C (Vulture and Culture), the first of several book clubs we'll be profiling that have done just that.

Today we talk with Mary Healey, who attributes diversity as one of the factors keeping the Farmington Woods Book Group of Avon, Connecticut, reading and meeting for 24 years. How was your book club formed?

Mary Healey:
Although we hold our meetings at a library, our members and facilitators are from our condo community. Some have been members the entire time. We average 20 members in attendance each month.

RGG: To what do you attribute the longevity of your book club?

Diversity. That is what has kept the Farmington Woods Book Group going for 24 years. The differences lie in many areas: in the age of our members, our backgrounds, our interests and our selection of books. When it was first formed the members all came from our gated condo community, but as we meet at the Farmington Library monthly everyone is welcomed. A few of the original members still come faithfully each month.

The members came to Connecticut from many areas of the country. Their experiences and travels take them to many places of the settings of our book selections, and the tidbits they offer enhance the discussion. When reading a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, it was enlightening to have a personal friend of the First Lady tell intimate stories of their times together. It added to the interest of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time to have a woman from the Middle East join in the discussion and tell of her family still living there and to treat us to a cup of the tea from the book's recipe.

RGG: What can you tell us about meeting at a library?

MH: The books for the following month are waiting for us as we arrive. That certainly doesn't stop us from buying the book, as often the very books we read are the ones we purchase for gift giving.

Holding our meetings in a library sets the stage for a more formal discussion. Our members take turns facilitating from the list of books we selected by voting. Each month the facilitator researches the author and creates her discussion questions. The 28 women all take part. Everyone is respectful and yes, as in old school days the facilitator recognizes our raised hands.

Not for you, you might be thinking. Too formal and restricted? You should hear the laughter at our meetings! The humor is great, the discussions lively and afterwards lunch at a nearby restaurant is rewarding and more personal stories are shared at that time.

RGG: What advice do you have for other groups that would like to make it to the 20-year mark (and beyond)?

My advice to having your group become a long-lasting one is to invite new members, to diversify. And very important is the book selection. The popular old and new books may be great reading, but we always ask, "Is it discussable?" We recommend that no one suggests a book without reading it first themselves. A different opinion always makes for a great discussion. All opinions are respected and everyone is treated with courtesy.

RGG: What do you enjoy most about being part of a book club?

Reading groups open to us books we would never pick up on our own. What a great way to be entertained and educated at the same time.