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November 23, 2009

Book Club Longevity: Reading in Kansas

Posted by webmaster
Cathy Sherman wrote to tell us about her Kansas book club, which was founded in late 1980. Having joined in 1987, she's "the new girl" and the keeper of the group's blog, Blather, a book club. Today, founder Chris Becicka shares stories about their book club --- how it came to be, the first book they read as a group, what has changed over the years and more.

Previous Book Club Longevity Interviews:
V&C (Vulture and Culture)
Farmington Woods Book Group
Thursday Night Book Club
The Bookers What was your first book club gathering like?

Chris Becicka:
There were four of us to start --- Jane Long, Marilyn McSpadden (who when she moved away 20 years ago we all felt betrayed), Mary Steeb and me --- all high school English and/or journalism teachers. We met at my house, read The Awakening by Kate Chopin, had sandwiches, dessert, and wine. We decided then to ask some others to join us --- my mom, then editor of a newspaper, a science teacher who I always saw reading during breaks and in the copy room, another English teacher, a French teacher from another school district and a couple others. For a long time, we had 10 constant members; we've always met on the third Thursday of the month, with variations dependening on people's schedules --- more erratic now than then. Two moved away; one doesn't like to drive at night now and has some physical issues.

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

The process and mutations speak to the longetivity I think: We decided that we would try to usually read two books; just one if it were really long. We would all read the same book. We said we would be committed to getting that or those book(s) read on time --- and most of us are pretty faithful to that --- though sometimes we wish if people hadn't read the book, they wouldn't come. (The worst offender of that is no longer with us.) We've gone through several permutations -- for a while we had a "leader" of the discussion who was responsible for coming up with some questions or finding reviews; sometimes we tried to pair the books (still do that occasionally) by theme or time. In recent years there has been more dependence on some of the premanufactured book questions out there. The person who is hosting the month's gathering gets to choose the next month's books. This, too, has recently changed in that one member thought it might be a good idea if we were reading more award-winning books and bestsellers. So we have been reading one of those which she lists in the calendar and then we pair it with another each month.

Fellow member Jane Long: As to why we have lasted so long, that is difficult to say. I think that it is at least partly due to our committment to read the books that are chosen. Those who were less committed to doing that have dropped out of the group. We are also a compatible group, I think. We don't always agree, often disagree, in fact. But we are usually able to disagree without being disagreeable. We have varied backgrounds which provide a variety of insights into the books. I think we also try to choose thought-provoking books. Some of our best discussions have been about books that we didn't especially care for, but we read them anyway and had thoughtful discussions about our objections to either their ideas or their literary value.

RGG: What changes have taken place in the group over the years you've been meeting?

Once we tried having husbands to book club because one husband wanted to come (not mine, that's for sure). That did not work. We've tried to cut back from full dinners to just appetizers --- also hasn't worked. Talked about doing just desserts. That didn't work. We meet at restaurants if someone is too stressed to cook, doesn't want to, or if it's an "empty" month (no hostess assigned) . We've gotten better at buying good food, which is helpful. The one constant: there is always wine. We've been through one marriage, two funerals of spouses (same woman actually), several children's marriages, several job and career changes, grandchildren's births, only one divorce, and several homes; our oldest member is now 85, the youngest is maybe 54. We have a blog that one member set up.

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

Find people who want to read and will commit to finishing the book. It is more interesting if everyone is not at the same stage of life in one way or another. Read a variety of books. The books that some of us like the least create the most discussion. Two books do help. Have one conversation, not several going on at the same time --- we don't always follow this rule. Don't let someone dominate (hard to do sometimes). Do some reading and research about the book before your meeting. We read mostly fiction but have read nonfiction as well: Three Cups of Tea and David McCullough's Truman and John Adams, and like The White City and Gore Vidal's Lincoln which are fiction based on fact.

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

Since we've met for 29 years x 12 nights a year, I just don't think one stands out. However, Christmas every year is usually our most fun event and we start a half hour earlier for it. It is practically always at Mary's home --- she is the ultimate decorator, loves Christmas and is a great cook. Every year we give presents --- which started out for a couple of dollars and were usually book or Christmas-related --- lots of ornaments. Now the gifts often come from travels and are usually much cooler.