Book Clubs Respond: Continued

Monday, March 3, 2008; 2:27 PM

Back in 1972, flush from having received a BA in English from Maryland, I wanted to share all my wonderful knowledge with the rest of the world. So I tried to get a job teaching. Unfortunately, I didn't have a certificate or a Masters degree, so I ran into a huge wall. However, I had one more ace up my sleeve. I went to the Montgomery County Adult Education program people with an offer to teach a non-credit literature course that I called Contemporary American Fiction. Reluctantly, the folks at the program agreed to let me try it out. Unbelievably, I actually got enough students to teach the course. This was in September, 1973. My syllabus was: The Catcher in the Rye, On the Road, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Invisible Man, Deliverance, and The Garden of Earthly Delights. My students and I had so much fun that, at the end of the course, they asked me to come up with a new syllabus and continue into the spring semester. I said I really wasn't prepared to do that, and so they proposed that we form a book club instead.

So, in December 1973 we began our club. The spring 1974 semester was equally successful, and at the end of the course, I invited the students from that class to consider joining the club. Several did, and we were off and running. Unfortunately, the county lost interest in my course, and I wasn't able to get another class going. But, so what? We had the book club and we were having a ball. We have been meeting continuously since then, and, although we are now down to a hardy five of us (with two other, semi-retired members), we are still as enthusiastic about getting together to talk about books as we were when we began thirty-four years ago.

At our last meeting we had a lot of fun trying to remember which book resulted in our liveliest discussion. With so many years behind us, and so many lively discussions as well, it was really hard to decide.

Here were some of the books we remembered having really lively discussions about: Angle of Repose; Sometimes a Great Notion (we liked this one so much we re-read it a decade later to see if we still loved it; we did.); Love in the Time of Cholera; Bel Canto; Year of Wonders, The Kite Runner, The Sea and Atonement. But the books we agreed we enjoyed discussing the most had to do with the theme of immigrant struggles: T.C. Boyle's Tortilla Curtain and Andre Dubus's House of Sand and Fog. The eventual victor was House of Sand and Fog. For some reason, the discussion of that book really stands out as a night of wonderful conversation.

I hope I haven't taken too much of your time with this rambling reminiscence. After all those years, however, the memories just tumble out.

Thanks for recognizing the importance of book clubs.

Respectfully, Mike Abell


I am from Mason, Ohio (outside of Cincinnati) and my book club has been meeting for about 7 years. Our meetings are one of the things I most look forward to in life.

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