The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 29, 2002

Features

Friendly bookworms, Thursday night at Gleason Public Library

If you drive by the Gleason Public Library in the evening of the third Thursday of every month, you'll notice the lights ablaze in the Hollis Room. If you keep going, you'll be missing a special and regular event, so stop in and join one of the liveliest groups in town: the Friends of Gleason Public Library Book Group.

You might wonder why the words "book group" and "lively" appear in the same sentence, but there is good reason. Each month, this collection of Carlisleans gathers to discuss a book they've all agreed to read, and these people have things to say. In any given month, there can be anywhere from 12 to 20 people sitting around large tables, seminar style, debating the merits of a volume of history, biography, fiction or journalism. Opinions, theses defenses, comparisons, and questions fly across the table, seasoned with large measures of laughter. Refreshments make the rounds, passed from one reader to the next, fueling ever more animated debate.

A bunch of rarefied intellectuals? No, just a group of friendly bookworms with a real appreciation for reading and a desire to broaden their reading choices. It really is fun to read "outside your own box," taking up the ideas of fellow group members and learning about their tastes and preferences, discovering authors you might never have picked up, or actually finishing that biography you thought you might get to in some slow, dreamy summer when your schedule isn't jam-packed. There's an advantage both to reading something you might not choose on your own and to reading to a deadline: you read with attention, and you have a good chance of getting it done! Nobody's being tested here and not everybody always has a chance to finish or even to start a book, but everybody has something to say, and everybody goes away feeling renewed and inspired to read.
Susan Stengrevics, a member of the Friends' Book Group, opens her book as the discussion begins. (Photo by Lois d'Annunzio)

The idea for the group came from Anjli Trehan, who suggested it at a meeting of the Friends in August 2001 and volunteered to get the whole thing started. She and Paul Morrison took on the organizational duties, and continue to keep everyone on track with regular and informative e-mails. Morrison says he joined "because I was looking for a place in Carlisle to meet and talk with other people with wide-ranging interests about books and the wider world they open up. I suspect that I'm like most people in Carlisle in that I have a demanding day job which nonetheless manages not to tap into a whole range of interests and pleasures of the mind...If you get a group of Carlisleans together you always get a group of smart, thinking people with interesting lives and shrewd reactions to what they encounter. So I knew that getting into a book group in Carlisle would be a guaranteed charge."

The Friends (FOGPL) sponsored the first meeting in September, and there were well over 20 people in attendance, most of whom had brought reading suggestions. Titles were voted in rounds, until there were books scheduled through December and a list of more titles to consider for the new year. The group decided to have a volunteer facilitator from among the readers at each meeting, who would introduce the author and the book, provide some background information, and lead the discussion. After that meeting, the group took off on its own, expanding its membership and becoming a self-perpetuating organization.

Not every meeting went smoothly at first, and certainly not every book received a stamp of approval. Gradually the group adopted guidelines for book choice: shooting in the dark, for example, turned out to be less useful than being sure at least one person in the group had read the book and could recommend it. Not all books foster good discussion, so this kind of reader recommendation helped ensure that there would be a lot to talk about. Copies of books needed to be easy to obtain from inter-library loan, or at least inexpensively available in paperback.

The first book this ambitious group tackled was in reaction to a general desire to learn more about the people who had destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and damaged the Pentagon in Washington: John K. Cooley's densely packed and journalistic history of terrorism, Unholy Wars. Selections of a lighter nature as well as other challenges followed. By January, the group was functioning effectively and heartily, and could generate an impressive list of titles for the remainder of the year.

In February, the Friends' Book Group read Katharine Graham's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Personal History, the fascinating story of the late publisher of the Washington Post. Graham was a woman who knew almost every major figure of the second half of the twentieth century, and was personally involved in historical moments most of us only read about. The meeting on March 21 covered When We Were Orphans, by Kazuo Ishiguro. April's pick is Adam Gopnik's From Paris to the Moon, followed by Amy Tan's latest novel, The Bonesetter's Daughter in May. In June, the group will read a collection of short stories by Andrea Barrett entitled Ship Fever and then break for the summer, doubtless with an armful of recommendations from fellow readers. After the summer holidays, David McCullough's John Adams will kick off the reunion of the group in September.

The Friends' Book Group welcomes anyone who loves to read and talk about books. If you'd like to consider joining, stop by the Hollis Room for a meeting and see what goes on. It's a great way to laugh while you learn, and a great way to meet old friends and make new ones, both human and literary!


2002 The Carlisle Mosquito