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November 19, 2009

Book Club Longevity: The Bookers

Posted by webmaster
The Bookers of Henrico, North Carolina, celebrated their 20th anniversary this past September. As part of our series of interviews with members of long-running book clubs, we talk with Carol Weigel about what has kept them reading and discussing for two decades, why The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus made for a memorable discussion...and why they felt compelled to change their group's name.

Previous Book Club Longevity Interviews:
V&C (Vulture and Culture)
Farmington Woods Book Group
Thursday Night Book Club How long has your book club been meeting, and how was it formed?

Carol Weigel:
We are an activity group of the Lake Gaston Ladies Club. (The Ladies Club has many activity groups.) Bookers was formed when a member put out a clip board and asked others whether they would like to form a book club. Only two other people showed up for the first meeting. They decided to not just read books at this book club. They wanted it to cover literature and arts and education. One of them had just received the music to the "new" Broadway hit The Phantom of the Opera and an old black-and-white video film. The next meeting had more in attendance. They watched and listened to the film and music and discussed that and the book. Ever since, the meetings have been eclectic.

The mission statement for Bookers is: The purpose of the Happy Bookers is to share a mutual love of books and reading, as well as other aspects of cultural arts and education. Here are the words of one of the organizers: "Originally, after we really became organized, the group decided to call ourselves 'The Happy Bookers' as a play off of a popular book of the day, Happy Hooker. Later some ladies objected to that, although we had a lot of laughs from everyone who heard us tell them our book club name. So we are now just Bookers."

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

The versatility of the group. There is something for everyone. Some members used to perform elaborate plays. Sometimes they wrote the plays, sometimes they adapted books into plays. They would perform for the Bookers and also for the whole Ladies Club. It became so popular, they had an off shoot group start. The activity group is called Stage I, and they still perform one play per year for the Ladies Club. It did not break our group apart. They now have different members with still some Bookers in their group. We still perform skits in Bookers by adapting books, but we don't take months to prepare and produce.

We also don't demand that they read one book title only and discuss it. We actually only have one general book discussion during the year. We have a variety of programs dealing with literature. If we want to have a single title book discussion, people stay after the program to do so. Last year our general book discussion was "Living British Women Authors" in tribute to Doris Lessing winning the Nobel Literature award. The discussion groups were broken down by category of fiction, romance, chick lit, children's, mystery. This year we are going to do immigration literature, specifically immigrants to the USA, in recognition of the 2010 census.

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

Have a strong planning committee. Each time we have had a good coordinator, they've had a good planning committee. We have had some years that weren't well done and membership dropped. We currently have 67 members. Some have actually been with the group for 20 years which is so exciting to have that experience to draw from and get advice.

RGG: Tell us about a memorable book discussion or meeting.

We discussed House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus last year. We felt that all the main characters had some mental illness or were suffering from depression. Well, that led to the most intimate and special book discussion. People really shared their home and family experiences with mental illness. And we didn't forget about the book, but wove the discussion into the questions we were answering.

Another meeting 12 years back was wonderful for all of us. We have always tried to have one theatre event in the yearly schedule. For that meeting we went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, which was about two hours away. We saw a play in the theatre within the museum, had lunch in the members dining room, and then visited the galleries and had a talk with one of the curators (who had worked with one of our members). It truly represented what our mission statement conveys.