Saturday, October 05, 2002

A Book Club for the Ages
Virginia Women Have Read Along Together for Six Decades

Sept. 28, 2002 -- In 1941, a group of women in Northern Virginia formed a book club. Their husbands were just starting their careers and nearly all the wives were in their 20s. They would meet in the afternoons, bringing their babies along. During World War II, many took jobs, so meetings were switched to evenings.

Years passed. Then decades. Today, 61 years on, the group -- which they simply call "Book Club" -- is down to six members, age 86 through 92. They still meet regularly. Two of them still drive, one is a Senior Olympics champion, and one is an avid canoeist. They all know each other intimately.

As the members tell Howard Berkes for All Things Considered, every few meetings, they have a "book selection." Each member brings three titles she'd be willing to buy. The group votes on which one the member should buy, and at the next meeting, the books are passed on. If the group likes a suggested title that doesn't make the rotation, the woman who suggested it is asked to read it and present a "book report" to the group.

They meet every three weeks, with some longer breaks in the summer. Their favorite authors over the years have been Wallace Stegner, Barbara Kingsolver and Jill Kerr Conway.

In the early days they avoided the bestseller list, sticking to the weightier stuff of classic literature and non-fiction.

That's changed. The women don't pooh-pooh the bestseller list anymore, but they certainly don't follow it slavishly. Their reading remains as varied as ever, from academic tomes to light novels. They haven't kept count, but they have read an estimated 1,000 books each -- just for the group. That doesn't include books they've read on their own.

How much longer will they go? "The book club would never consider disbanding," says member Mary Lathram. "I think that's a terrible word for Book Club. I feel that when we get too frail, maybe we'll just… fade away."

The group's current reading list is:

John Adams by David McCullough
The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn
Corelli's Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
The Last Time We Met by Anita Shreve

From NPR.
For an audio report:

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