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Mary Helen Simpson, centre, presented Jody Picoult's book Small Great Things at the club's April meeting

Book Club communities: Enduring connections

Book club membership often waxes and wanes with participants’ competing interests. But one club in Prescott has members who have been around for all of the club’s 37-year history.

Most of the club’s founding members were young mothers at the time, and some were new to the area. Looking for some intellectual stimulation and adult conversation, they decided to capitalize on their shared love of reading.

At the club’s April meeting, former member Judy Jones was a surprise guest. Jones left the club in 1991 when she moved to Virginia. She brought with her a wealth of memories, as well as some archival documents. The club started out with a formal structure, including meeting minutes and executive roles. The group even had an official name—Prescott Women’s Book Club—which has since devolved into simply “the book club.”

Jones recalls that, in the early years, meetings sometimes included guest speakers. The group also went on occasional outings. In 1983, for example, they went to an NAC production of The Tin Flute in Ottawa after reading Gabrielle Roy’s book.

Meetings now are more casual, and are as much social occasions as book discussions. With low membership turnover, the group’s members have known each other for years—sometimes decades.

At their April meeting, held at member Elke Oppinger’s home, long-time member Mary Helen Simpson opened the discussion of the group’s latest read, Small Great Things by Jody Picoult. Simpson, who had recommended Picoult’s book to the group, share some information about both the author and the book.

Research is a key factor in the group’s study of each book. Jones recalls that, decades ago, research involved sifting through the local library’s card catalogues. Research was time-consuming, but the group found the contextual details rewarding. Today, abundant information is readily found online.

The club chooses its reading list once per year, based on members’ suggestions. Some members buy books and share them around the group. They read fiction and non-fiction, and prefer books that stretch their minds.

Since the club meets in members’ homes, space limitations keep membership capped at 14 or 15. Members seldom leave the group and, when they do, there is always another friend or relative waiting to join.

Suzie Larocque has contemplated leaving the group since she moved to Ottawa six years ago. Every winter she thinks, “Why am I doing this?” as she drives over an hour to get to each meeting.

“When I first moved to Ottawa, I wasn’t ready to give up the club’s social aspect,” says Larocque. She decided to remain with the club only until she established a social network in Ottawa.

This spring, Larocque planned to tell the group she’ll leave before next winter. But she knows she probably won’t.

“I still enjoy it, and my schedule allows it,” says Larocque, who also belongs to an Ottawa book club.

Although she’d only been with the club for five years before she moved, Larocque had known many of its members for much longer, having lived in Hawkesbury for 30 years. The club helps keep Larocque’s personal connection to its members—her friends—alive.

At the meeting, rapid-fire discussion about Picoult’s book and its theme of racism bounces around Oppinger’s living room like a tennis ball. After an hour, the group takes a break to enjoy coffee and homemade cake.

The meeting’s second hour is purely social. A half dozen conversations swirl around as members catch up with each other. Books may be why they meet, but it’s the connection that has kept the group going for 37 years.

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Barbara Lehtiniemi

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer and photographer from North Glengarry, Ontario.
Barbara Lehtiniemi
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Barbara Lehtiniemi

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer and photographer from North Glengarry, Ontario.

barb-lehtiniemi has 38 posts and counting.See all posts by barb-lehtiniemi

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