By Maureen Smith
Where would I be without book clubs? It seems that has been the one constant wherever my travels have taken me. Currently I’m an active member of The Naval Academy Women’s Club (NAWC) First Friday Book Group, which has reached an impressive milestone, celebrating its 30th year. It has been such a popular group that the Naval Academy women now have a Second Friday Book Group and they are exploring the possibility of a third.
When I moved to Annapolis 23 years ago I joined the NAWC and felt an immediate kinship with these book lovers. Each month (September to May) we have a hostess and a leader. Here is the format we found workable:
1. The leader begins by sharing information about the author. At a recent meeting, our book was Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure. The leader contacted the author, Matthew Algeo, to ask him questions and was pleased and surprised at his prompt response.
2. Each member rates the current title (1 – 10) without an explanation.
3. Then each member gives her impression of the book and explains her rating. One may find the book dull and uninspiring and another find it life-changing.
4. The leader reads professional reviews from literary journals, magazines and newspapers. We then see how our reviews jive with the big guys such as Publishers Weekly.
During these discussions, we learn a great deal about each other. Our personal experiences are often reflected in our judgments of books and their characters. Some of us have had bouts with serious illness, some are caretakers of husbands or parents, some were raised in a large family and others were an only child — all these things come into play in our opinions. We all have similarities as well, such as our many travel experiences.
At the beginning we followed a theme in selecting our books such as Pulitzer Prize-winning novels; winning women writers; books I always wanted to read or re-read; biographies; contemporary authors; classics of the 19th and 20th centuries; or all around the U.S.A. This worked for many years, but now we all submit books we would like to see on our list and a committee of two or three members makes the selections. In making our book list we consider the number of copies at our local libraries and the length of the book. We always choose a shorter book to read over the holidays. At one time a long book was selected to read over the summer, but we have since dropped that idea and instead at our September meeting we share the different titles that we have read and our experiences during the time off.
At one point in the 30 years an interesting sub-group spun off to read only Charles Dickens. This group included a few interested men. Our guru was Dr. Tom Carpenter, an English professor at the Naval Academy and later at the Anne Arundel Community College and the Unitarian Church School. Like E. F. Hutton, when he spoke, we listened. Discussion of one book would span several of our sessions. Many in this group had read Dickens from their childhood on. It was impossible not to absorb some of their passion and our meetings were always lively.
Book clubs have become enormously popular. Almost every special interest group or neighborhood seems to have their own book group. New Annapolitans, which has more than 500 members, has five book groups. Now, with the lengthy waiting lists at local libraries, our members are filling their Kindles, iPads, Nooks (and whatever else has been invented while this article was being written) with books from our list. Most of us have every shelf crammed with books, so these gadgets are definitely serving a purpose and finding a place in our lives.
If a book club is on your list of things to try this year, check with your local library branch. Many have active book clubs in place. Another source for book clubs in our area is There isn’t a better way to make friends than to share a love of books. If you are unable to find a club in your area, start your own by simply getting a few interested friends together. Suggest a title, buy a few cookies, make a pot of coffee and you’re off and reading.

Maureen can be reached at [email protected]

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