Now in its 20th year, the East Lincoln Book Club continues to offer opportunities for members to engage in lively discussions of books chosen from a variety of genres.
At the club's May meeting, at the Shanklin Library in Denver, the book under consideration was "Pops: The Life of Louis Armstrong," by Terry Teachout. Discussion leader Erica Batten began the meeting by playing a 1928 recording of "West End Blues" by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five.
The music provided the springboard for a lively exchange of ideas about the way Armstrong's life and music profoundly affected the evolution of jazz in America in the 20th century. The group members, all women, displayed an enviable open-mindedness as they considered the excesses and eccentricities of Armstrong's personal life.
Such discussions are fairly commonplace, according to member Peggy Wesp.
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"This is an exceptional group of ladies. We are quite diverse, in terms of religion, educational background and geography, and most of our members really take time to understand the book in depth," said Wesp. "I don't think anybody has ever left the meeting not feeling good about the discussion."
Reading selections for the year are decided upon in the spring, when a committee of three members choose two potential titles for each month. Choices are made from various categories, including nonfiction (history, biography, philosophy) and fiction (mystery, historical, women).
Books chosen for discussion do not include paperback bestsellers. "We prefer books with good character development, a well-thought-out plot and the potential for lively discussion," said club member Julia Williams.
Other considerations include the level of difficulty in the book. "We try to choose a more challenging book for September. For November, we choose a book for which there is a movie version, and then we watch the movie in December instead of reading another book," said Wesp.
In the past year, reading selections have included "Spice: The History of a Temptation," by Jack Turner; "Let the Great World Spin," by Colum McCann; "The Last Station," by Jay Parini, and "The Virgin Blue," by Tracy Chevalier.
A particular favorite work was "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," by Mary Ann Shaeffer and Annie Barrows. A work of historical fiction, it detailed the Nazi occupation of the Isle of Guernsey during World WarII.
The requirement that members read a book they might not otherwise have chosen for themselves is a mixed blessing.
"It challenges me to read books that I might not otherwise read," said club member Nancy Luckey. "Sometimes I don't like the book upon reading it, but I often like it more after we discuss it at our meeting. That, to me, is the joy of being in a book club."
Building on their interest in good literature, club members support a community project in Denver.
Each September, they get the Battle of the Books list from Rock Springs Elementary School media specialist Rebekah Stanton. Each member chooses one or two books from the list to read and then generates as many as 50 questions about it. Stanton uses the questions to quiz young readers in the competition.
The club is open to new members. The group is particularly interested in adding some male members as a means of providing gender balance to the discussions.
"One other thing," said Wesp, "is that we need more younger people to bring a youthful perspective to our discussion."
With newspaper readership in decline and bookstore chains such as Borders struggling to stay afloat, encouraging reading, especially of books with literary merit, is a commendable endeavor.
Joining the East Lincoln Book Club may give prospective readers the impetus they need to pick up a good book, and in turn set an example for the next generation of readers.