FULTON, Ill. — Seated in a circle to stimulate conversation, a small group of ladies Thursday night partook in a lively discussion about their latest book pick.
It was a scene just like the first time the group, made up of 10 members originally, met in 1973.
Feb. 1 marked the 45th anniversary of the book club that meets in Fulton. In the early 1970s, after earning her master’s degree in education, Barbara Mask sent letters to nine of her friends with the hope they would be interested in creating a club. Mask is proud that no member living in Fulton has left the club. Three of the original 10 members still live in Fulton.
“When I was asked to join (about five months after it started), it had come along at a time when I needed a challenge in my reading,” said Dotty Leininger. “I love to read. I was getting tired of the same old best sellers.”
One commonality between the ladies is that they end up reading books they would not have considered before. Leininger said they read new, old, long, short, good and bad books — but there is always conversation.
“My experience has been when we all really like the book, the discussion is not as good as when we have some people like it and some people don’t,” said Kathy Wolf, one of the newest and youngest members.
When there’s controversy, Wolf gets a new perspective on the book she just read. She said it’s like completely missing something and “all of a sudden you read a new book.”
They’ve strayed away from the classics — like the “Great Gatsby” — and generally don’t read the same author twice. It’s not a rule, though each month’s designated researcher seemingly just happens to hear of or learn about an intriguing author.
Most times, a book sticks with the person. “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset is Leininger’s “favorite book forever” and was her 1,000-plus page choice, while “Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America” by Stephen G. Bloom was the introduction to the club for Wolf.
Nancy Kolk, Wolf’s neighbor in 2002, thought she would enjoy “Postville” and invited her to join in that month’s discussion.
“I don’t remember if they invited me back or if I just kept coming back,” Wolf joked.
The group got its start on Feb. 1, 1973. Mask at the time was a stay-at-home mom with two young boys. She missed the academic focus of adult conversation at the university.
“This is a group of amazingly well-read women that have expanded my horizons so much,” said Wolf, who was a literature major in college. “It gives me a chance to read things I would have never picked myself... that’s the point of it.”
Now from September to May, the group of 10 or 11 members alternates between hosting and researching a book for debate. The night is always hosted in someone’s home – which is partially why the group has remained small. The home-based meetings make for open conversations and a general feeling of comfort among the group.
Each member takes a turn researching the book. That member tends to look deep into the author and their other writings to get a better understanding of the book. Leininger said it’s not really about whether you liked the book, but about what you can learn from the discussion and the general joy in reading.
“The 45th anniversary was a great evening to reminisce about members that have been with us or are no longer here... to talk about the past,” said Mask, who hosted the evening. “We’re all extremely grateful that we are here and still able to meet after 45 years. And do it with the same enthusiasm.”