Loquacious & Literary
The Citizen Explores the Dynamic of Morgan County's Books Clubs
by Whitney Skeeters
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Bookies began more than a decade ago with 11 members. Like most book clubs, one member hosts the meeting each month by choosing the book, providing the refreshments and location, and leading the discussion.
Because it has survived over the years – it still has 10 of the original 11 founders – Bookies doesn’t normally take in new members. It has evolved into an established, closely-knit group, and according to Ellen Warren, the relationships take precedence over the books.
“We feel a kinship and connection to each other. There’s a real dedication,” Warren said. “We share in each others lives. I don’t think we’re the ordinary book club.”
Women, Wine and Books, a local club that has been in existence since 2000, began with a similar goal of building relationships. It was birthed out of the Madison Area Newcomers Club and has maintained an open membership of about 15 ever since. Members said they love the club because it is a chance to have a good meal and intriguing conversation with intelligent women about a book they have read. Babs Johnston said they have covered all genres, from light fiction to heavy nonfiction. The choices vary as much as the personalities of the women, who come from diverse backgrounds and a range of ages.
“There’s just no telling what some of them will have us read,” said Johnston.
Bluestockings, by far the oldest book club in the county, began in 1991. Approximately 10 people come each month, although the email list has about 20 names on it. According to Julie Jenkins, the meetings are relaxed and informal. Books are voted on and someone volunteers to host each month.
LOL, or "Laughing Over Literature," was founded more than two years ago by a group of soccer moms, has evolved to a steady membership of about 15, a number most clubs agree is ideal. Attendance is not an issue for this crew: many members have only missed one or two monthly meetings, if at all. One rule unique to the club is no book can be chosen that a member has already read. Jodi Schmidt said this is to force members to go beyond books they would normally gravitate toward. She added that by comparing the diverse characters and situations in books, you learn more about each of the members by the way they respond.
“You see a totally different perspective than your own,” Schmidt said.
Ginger Gardner said they try to keep it casual.
“There’s no pressure – we all have things going on. Homework is the last thing some of us need,” Gardner said.
Only six months old, the newest club in town is run by Dog Ear Books owner, Jon Tonge. He started the club after a few locals approached him about creating a different kind of book club: one that would be a serious discussion resembling a college class more so than a social get-together. He tries to keep the choices democratic and the location on neutral territory to maintain a more formal dialogue. Tonge said that although no one has ever raised a voice, disagreements often lead to better discussion. Themes, symbolism, philosophy, and other stylistic devices are analyzed at their meetings, held on the first Monday of the month.
“Sometimes it can be a heavy discussion,” Tonge said.
Like the members of other book clubs, Tonge noticed a real positive response.
“People really like the club, whether or not they like the book,” Tonge said.Dozens of Morgan County citizens gather once a month with one simple, common element: a love affair with the written word. Gathering around swimming pools, fireplaces and kitchen tables, local readers immerse themselves in a conversation of literature. Whether surrounded by flickering candles or tiki torches, steaming pots of chili or crisp spring salads, avid readers transport from the slums of a crowded city to the hilly encampments of Iraq with a turn of a page.
Book clubs have existed for centuries as a way for men and women to gather socially and expand the mind by discussing prose. There are currently five book clubs in Morgan County that meet once a month to delve beyond the simple “Did you like it?” Symbolism is interpreted, literary techniques are evaluated and characters are compared to real people that impact the lives of the members. You can also find wine, good conversation, and relationships that last a lifetime.