Washington is an especially fertile place for book clubs, full as it is of literate, argumentative people. Our book clubs are as varied as books. Also, like some books, book clubs can seem like a bit of a chore: Oh no! I haven’t finished my book club homework!
But after asking readers to share their book club experiences, I see that many people have figured out ways to avoid the cliches of the typical book club.
The Capitol Hill book club that Larry Pearl belongs to started out in the typical fashion: selecting a single book each month for everyone to read. Then they started having fights, especially over whether to read fiction or nonfiction.
Wrote Larry: “The club almost broke up until one of our Washington types (who still believed in compromise) said: ‘Listen, there is an easy solution. Everyone can read whatever they want and report on it to the group.’ And once we did that people would say, ‘Hmm, that sounds interesting, can I borrow that?’ And law and order was restored.
“The only catch was how to share a book that someone read on a Kindle. Oh, well.”
Sandra L. Friedman belongs to a book club at the Victory Forest Apartments in Silver Spring. Her club’s twist? “Frequently we read different books by the same author, rather than all of us reading the same book,” Sandra wrote. “And so we share our impressions of how the author writes about different subjects and characters.”
According to the National Association of Book Clubs of America Society, an organization I just made up, only 37 percent of book club members actually finish reading the assigned book in time for the meeting. Perhaps that’s why the Bethesda book club that Dot Hartley belongs to ended up where it has.
“Years ago we switched from reading books to reading short stories,” wrote Dot. “No excuse for not having read the short story! The one leading the discussion chooses a story and gives a short bio of the author. The story always gives us plenty to discuss.”
Many book clubs like to spice up their meetings with delectable treats related to the title in question. Betty Porreca belongs to the No Ordinary Book Club in Howard County. “When I led the discussion of Tracy Chevalier’s ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring,’ last year, I served the leek soup that was mentioned in the book,” she wrote.
Just don’t do that with “Make Room! Make Room!,” the Harry Harrison novel that inspired the film “Soylent Green.”
Speaking of science fiction, Wendell Wagner belongs to a book club called Knossos, loosely affiliated with the Mythopoeic Society, which is interested in fantasy, particularly the works of the “Inklings” (J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, etc.). The members read a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, from ancient epics to graphic novels. That’s not all they do.
Wrote Wendell: “For some years now, once a year we watch a lot of movies on a Saturday rather than discuss a book, and once we watched old TV shows.”
A book club that watches TV shows? Now that’s a movement I could get behind.
I heard from many readers whose book clubs go on field trips together. When Fairfax Station’s Kris Needham moved to this area six years ago, she founded a group dubbed the Traveling Book Club, “as we often tour museums and visit restaurants related to the book,” she wrote. “Being part of a military family and moving many times over my husband’s Air Force career, book clubs have been a comfortable mainstay for me, a way to connect with fellow military spouses who share a common interest.”
Tours of local museums are lovely. Merle Thompson’s Alexandria book club supersized that idea. “For our tenth anniversary we traveled together to London, including a private tour of the Tower of London, organized through a friend of a friend,” Merle wrote.
Wouldn’t every book club that’s read any Hilary Mantel love a trip like that?
These book club insights were in response to my column about the Last Monday Book Club, founded in 1963 and among the oldest in the area with an original member. I say “among” because I had somehow missed my colleague Petula Dvorak’s column last year about the Third Tuesday Book Club. It, too, was founded in 1963 and is still going strong. What’s more, it has three of its original members, compared with only one for the Last Monday Book Club.
Whatever wine those Third Tuesdayers are drinking seems to be working.
A correction to my Monday column: While blue jays and crows are corvids, common grackles are not. Grackles are members of the blackbird family, Icteridae.
For previous columns visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.