March is National Reading Month: The Book Clubs of East Lansing

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016, 8:20 am
By: 
Rosalind Arch

All over East Lansing there are book clubs, where book lovers unite regularly to discuss the assigned reading, and make lasting friendships along the way. Each club has its own story, and a set of dedicated members.

Methods of picking the books vary from group to group. Elizabeth Ramos and other members of the four or five-year-old club called simply “The Neighborhood Book Club” hold a “let’s pick our books” night, every year. “We all bring a book or two to lobby for,” Says Ramos. “We read a short synopsis of the book, and we usually talk a bit about it."

Sometimes members bring objects relating to the book to get others interested in the book, such as mangos for "The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi.” The person who suggested the book typically hosts the meeting at which it’s discussed. “We try to always include one classic book during the year, but we read all kinds of stuff - from nonfiction to historical fiction to romance novels,” says Ramos.

Another group of East Lansing residents formed a club in 1984, after their evening college class, “Murder Mystery and Mayhem” ended. Barbara Zynda attends these meetings and remarks that “we read mostly read mysteries. It’s rare that we all agree on a book, but we all liked The Life We Bury and The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair.”

Gloria Taylor, member of the Hannah Center’s “East Lansing Senior Center Book Club” says that “we try to read books that are listed in the top 100 best books to read from a list published by The New York Times in 1998. We also use lists of ‘Banned Books’ to select novels, such as A Clockwork Orange, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.” This club was formed 26 years ago, and meets once every week, as opposed to most which meet only once a month.

Taylor also explains that “we always pick a book that has a movie based on it and after we finish the book we watch the movie and have a potluck where everyone brings something.” Some of the members find that this is their favorite part of participating in the club.

The Senior Center Book Club is not the only club in which food is a major element of each meeting. Ramos, also a member of a second, smaller book club, praises selections provided by the monthly hostess of past meetings including “homemade macaroons and chocolate-dipped blood orange.”

Most book club members I interviewed agree that everyone in the group reads the books. Once in a while, however, some find it difficult to really engage with a particular book. Ramos notes that “for my small book club, we read The Peacock Spring by Rumor Godden. At first, I really could not get into the book; I was just slogging my way through it, but I was determined not be a ‘slacker’ and get the read done. About half way through, it began to get really interesting, and in the end, I really liked the story.” Others don’t bother finishing a book they aren’t enjoying. Zynda remarks that “if I start reading it and it doesn’t grab me, I don’t finish it.”

Reasons vary for participation in local book clubs. Of the mystery book club, Zynda comments that “I like mysteries, I like the people in the group, we share common interests, and everyone talks about what they have been reading so I pick up on different authors.”

Gloria Taylor explains, “I grew up in Canada, so I grew up reading a lot of Canadian books.” As a scientist, she came to the United States and focused her attention mainly on books pertaining to her profession, as well as scientific journals. “When I retired, I thought ‘I’m just going to read fun things’ and I wanted to have a wide knowledge of American literature. The people that belong to it are a lot of fun, too.”

“I truly value the friendships that I have made via my book clubs,” Says Ramos, “The book becomes the ‘official’ excuse for stepping away from our busy lives and making time for friendship and fellowship.”

She also suggests that “the best way to get involved in an existing book club that you know of is to simply be bold and ask a member, ‘Hey, it sounds like you are reading some interesting things, do you think I could join your group?’ Or start up a book club of your own! My sense is that there are people all over East Lansing who are looking for ways to get connected to others and to find fulfilling friendships. Book clubs are one way to facilitate that.”

 

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