By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
FULTON, Ill. — For four decades a group of area women has fostered friendships and sharpened their wits through their love of reading and intelligent conversation.
The Fulton Book Club, which was founded by Barb Mask in 1973, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.
Mask said the inspiration to form the Fulton Book Club came when after completing her master's degree she decided to stay home to take care of her two sons.
"Searching for an opportunity to maintain the adult interaction and intelligent stimulation of discussing good literature was the impetus in organizing the book club," Mask said.
Three of the clubs' original members, Mask, Nancy Kolk and Jane Orman-Luker, are still active members. Dotty Leininger, who is a current member, joined a few months after the club's inception. Other members are: Sharon German, Connie Koehn, Sister Theresa Judge, Carol Kolk-Klimstra, Beverly Berzinski, Kathy Wolf, Pat Ohsann and Mari Sanders.
New members have joined for various reasons, but most do so because of the enlightened discussion and a chance to augment their love of reading.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for a group of intelligent women to meet and discuss good writing and enhance one’s appreciation of fine literature," Berzinski said.
Members take turns hosting the book club, which meets every month for nine months out of the year. They do not meet during the summer as many of them enjoy traveling.
Each member chooses one book a year to read, researches the background of the author and reviews of the book and leads the discussion. Everyone in the group is expected to read that book.
The current 12 members agree the format of their club played a major role in its success and longevity.
“I like the variety and different styles of writing and reading that being a member of a club offers to individual readers. I read many authors for book club that I otherwise would not choose," Leininger said.
Members most recently read "The Welsh Girl," a novel written by Peter Ho Davies about a German Jewish refugee who is sent to Wales to interview Rudolf Hess and also about a 17-year-old living in North Wales who meets an 18-year-old German corporal in a POW camp outside of her village.
Next the group will read a mystery novel.
“What I enjoy most about being a member of a book club is that it exposes me to many books that I would otherwise not read. It forces me to be a disciplined reader," Mask said.
The likeability of the book does not indicate the level of discussion, Mask said. The characters and events in the book will spark lively and engaging discussion, despite any qualms members had about that particular selection. It's that discussion that strengthens the connections between members.
“I like reading books that are chosen by members, but the discussions of a book really add to the enhancement of being a book club member. I also enjoy the bonding that comes with the regular meetings and continuity of the Fulton Book Club," Wolf said.
The question "what is your favorite book?" has become ubiquitous for members. However, the women are reluctant to answer. Each discussion fosters a new appreciation of the book, making it impossible to pin down just one of the hundreds they have read over the past 40 years.
Through the years, the group has celebrated the events of one another's lives. Most notably, Mask remembers bringing her 1-month-old daughter to a club meeting in 1975. Members showered her daughter with books, many she still treasures today.
Mask also hosts an anniversary dinner and gives members a gift every five years. It's during these times that members often reflect on the loss of past members, all of whom have either moved or died.
"The most difficult times have come with the loss of each member when one has moved out of town, but most profoundly, when one of our members has been lost to us through death," Mask said. "They are still remembered, however, when we reflect back on various books that they had chosen and shared with us and, especially, during our milestone anniversaries every five years."