Lake Norman & Mooresville

Book club shares more than reading

It's the second Thursday of the month, 4 p.m. Around Davidson, mothers shuttle their children to soccer practice, employees beg off work a bit early, runners take advantage of cooling temps and jog down Concord Road.

And about 25 women gather at a chosen home for a book club. This isn't just any book club - it's the Eighteen Book Club, and it's been a tradition here in town for over 60 years.

The club shares many of the same attributes as others in the area. The women look forward to seeing each other. The hostess provides snacks. There is lively, animated discussion about the book.

"Sometimes," said member Lane Dunker, "our biggest problem is that everybody wants to talk at once."

Yet, this is a unique group in many respects. They've been meeting for so long, no one actually knows when they originated (so if there's any one out there who has an idea of when the Eighteen Book Club began, please, by all means, enlighten us).

The oldest member, Hope Bell, is 86. She joined in 1954, the year after she moved to Davidson. Back then, the group didn't necessarily follow the book club formula of everyone reading one book, then gathering for a discussion. "Everyone brought a book, and we passed them around to each other," Bell said.

There were themes, and Bell remembered fondly a meeting where everyone spoke of their mother and families. A less popular choice? Children's literature. "That one didn't go over too well," Bell said.

Having been a member for the last 56 years, Bell has seen changes. The club was dubbed "Eighteen Book Club" because it's founders never wanted to have more than eighteen members. Currently the roster sits at about 25.

Now, the group discusses a book one month and has a speaker or program the next.

Favorites have included writers such as Dorothea Benton Frank, acclaimed author of books such as "Sullivan's Island," John Hart, Davidson College graduate and bestselling author of "The Last Child," and local poet and longtime Davidson resident Anthony Abbott. The group has also hosted Mayor John Woods, had Cindy Reid in to talk about local housing, and enjoyed a wine tasting.

Other things have stayed constant. For many years now, the books to be read are picked at a business meeting in September. It's decided then who will host and when, and dues of $10 are collected. The money is used throughout the year, to buy items such as flowers if one of the members is ill. At the end of the year, any extra money is donated to a cause in the community, such as the Ada Jenkins Center or to the Davidson Police Department to help in the purchase of bulletproof vests.

Several of the members have been involved for 10, 20, 30 years or more. Others are fairly new. The group is diverse, with women in their early 30's to widows in their 80's, some who grew up in the area and others who hail from other parts of the country. Both Dunker - who has been involved for the last eight years - and Bell agree that there is a binding tie of friendship.

"I don't get to see all these women on a day-to-day basis, so I really look forward to those Thursdays," Dunker said.

"We're from all walks of life, but we get along well," said Bell. "It's a real nice group of people, and they're all so good to me." (Case in point: Dunker - and many others - check in on Bell a few times a week. They bring her muffins and keep her company, and on the day we talked, Dunker took Bell's letters to the post office, promising to return with a book of stamps).

There's one other tradition that has stood the test of time for the Eighteen Book Club. Bell said, "I think we've always had the most attractive people in town."