What is the oldest continuously operating book club in the Washington area? It’s probably the Hamilton Book Club, founded in that tiny Loudoun County town in 1911.
But what is the oldest continuously operating book club that still has an original member? That’s what Helen Glazer wondered. She thinks it might be her book club, and she might be the original member.
It’s called the Last Monday Book Club — that’s when it meets every month — and it was founded in 1963 by Helen and some of her friends in the Stratton Woods neighborhood of Bethesda. The very first book was Philip Roth’s “Goodbye, Columbus.”
“It had come out in 1959 and had won the National Book Award for fiction,” Helen said. “It was still being discussed, praised and vilified.”
That’s what book clubs do: discuss, praise and vilify, often all at the same time.
The book club’s members were all women — young mothers, mostly. “At that time, we met at 8:30 at night because we had to get the kids to bed before we could leave the house,” Helen said. Husbands couldn’t be depended upon to put children to bed.
“Times have changed,” she said.
The Last Monday Book Club certainly has watched times change. You could even say it helped them change, though that was not always a painless process. One of the early books was “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan’s 1963 exploration of the emptiness felt by many suburban housewives, who were expected to find fulfillment in cooking, cleaning and raising children.
Some in the Last Monday Book Club didn’t want to read it.
“One member insisted we had to read it,” Helen said. “That nearly broke up the club.”
“Because the women who delighted in being stay-at-home mothers, they loved that role, that was what they felt they were meant to do,” she said. “But then there were people that responded to the message of, ‘It’s not enough to just be a stay-at-home mom.’ ”
The book club survived “The Feminine Mystique,” but some of the members’ marriages didn’t.
“It caused a couple of divorces, women who decided, ‘Yes, I’m going to do something with my life’ and their husbands didn’t want them to,” Helen said.
Books can be powerful things.
Helen is 89. She and her husband, Sidney, no longer live in Stratton Woods (they live off Persimmon Tree Road in Bethesda), but she’s still part of the book club, which rotates among members’ houses. There are about 15 members; eight or nine constitutes a good attendance.
One change: The Last Monday Book Club’s meetings are at 10 a.m. now. The members — still all female — are older. There are no children to put to bed.
Meeting nine months of the year for 51 years means Helen — the last original member — has read more than 450 books with the club, including: “At Weddings and Wakes” by Alice McDermott (the writer visited the club to discuss her novel); “Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature” by Linda Lear; “The Arrogance of Power,” Sen. J. William Fulbright’s scathing attack on the Vietnam War; “When the Cheering Stopped: The Last Years of Woodrow Wilson ” by Gene Smith; “Memoirs of a Survivor” by Doris Lessing . . .
“I thought it would be a memoir,” Helen said of the Lessing book. “But it turned out to be science fiction. I hate science fiction.”
Of course, you don’t have to like every book you read in a book club. You don’t even have to read it. The club’s next book is E.L. Doctorow’s “The March,” about General Sherman’s amble through the South. Helen has decided to read James McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom” instead.
“Sometimes we have meetings, and very few people have read the book,” Helen said.
Have you been a member of a book club for more than 51 years? Or have any titles in your book club caused great consternation — or great joy? Send your stories to me at email@example.com, with “Book Club” in the subject line.
I was on N Street NW the other day, cutting west from Connecticut, when I saw a group of men unloading sheets of drywall from a truck and using hand trucks and wheelbarrows to roll them into a nearby building.
The boss was leaning against the truck, shouting orders. “Come on,” he yelled at one guy whose pace he deemed too slow, “I want a New York walk, not a D.C. walk!”
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.