May 25, 2022

Constance Alexander: More than chocolate and wine, book clubs immerse themselves in reading that informs, inspires

Despite the stereotypes, women who come together to talk about books involve much more than chick-lit, chocolate and chardonnay. Take Diverse Divas from Paducah, for example. They meet once a month, via Zoom, to share insights and observations from reading books on hot issues like race, the Chinese cultural revolution and the war in Afghanistan.

Retired teacher and group founder Nancy Powless was inspired to host the monthly talks last June, around the time of the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There were so many social issues,” she said. “I spoke to friends of women who might be interested and made a list to start with.”

(Photo by seanmfreese)

She contacted potential participants via Facebook Messenger, which resulted in local members as well as others from Georgia, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Where possible, special guests enrich the discussion. Coming in October, Gayle Lemmon will join the Divas discussion of her book, ‘The Seamstress of Khair Khana’ about the changes a family of women faced when the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan.

The group ranges in age from twenty to seventy and the readings include fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes Zoom meetings are as small as four participants, but the number can be as high as twelve or fourteen. The format is flexible, so whether everyone has finished the book or not, the discussions are enriching.

Also with a McCracken County connection, Jessica Lanier Sager’s book club meets via Facebook. The group is made up of women who attended the same high school. The give-and-take talks sparked new relationships between old acquaintances.

“It’s funny,” observed Jessica. “We weren’t all close then, but we are now.”

In Christian County, book lovers gather to chat and raise their mugs at the Hopkinsville Brewing Company. Books at the Bar favors fiction, with September’s selection “One Little Lie,” by Colleen Coble.

Geneva Parris lives in County Trigg but she travels to Calloway to meet a band that has been around for over twenty-five years. She applauds their commitment to being open and inclusive in their reading choices. Over time, participation has fluctuated with changes in members’ lives, but reading choices have always challenged and broadened his thinking.

Paul Fourshee of Cadiz reports that the Janice Mason Art Museum launched an art book club last year. “Meets quarterly or so,” he said. The band aren’t picky about genre as long as there’s an artistic connection. Covid has affected their schedule, according to Fourshee. “We’ve been away for 18 months,” he reported, “and we really miss it.”

As part of regional outreach efforts, Murray’s NPR affiliate WKMS is hosting a virtual book club. The session scheduled for October 13 will focus on “Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of NPR’s Founding Mothers” by Lisa Napoli.

As well as being a source of inspiration, book groups are a way to make new friends and bond. Deborah Hayward, whose ties to Western Kentucky go back to her time working at Land Between The Lakes, wrote to say, “I joined two book clubs when we moved from DC to Indianapolis a while ago. is four years old. It was a way to meet new people and it forced me to set aside time to read,” she said.

Hayward is not alone. Although exact statistics are difficult to obtain, the New York Times estimates that about five million people belong to book clubs. The popular site, Goodreads, has over 40 million members, and editors are known to make decisions based on reviews and support from book clubs.

After posting on Facebook about joining reading groups, I have to say the most interesting gathering I’ve come across so far is meeting in Fort Wayne, Indiana at Purdue University . Jennifer Symonds Morrison says her sister started it. “We read coal,” admits Morrison without blushing.

The choices lean towards Harlequin-type romances. “Usually females have a backbone,” she adds.

The proliferation of bookgroups is covered in numerous articles, including a recent one in JStor, a publication that claims to be “where news meets scientific correspondence.”