Join the club

Book clubs around the Island help keep discussion going year-round.

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The Federalist Papers Book Club, as it is called, was formed about eight years ago as many of these book clubs are — at a cocktail party where three or four partygoers clustered in a corner and argued about the course of political events. One drinker said, ”What would the Founding Fathers have thought of all this?” A second drinker said, “I bet there is something about this in the Federalist Papers. I have always wanted to read them.” And in an instance the Federalist Papers Book Club was formed.

Members have come and gone but the focus has remained the same — nonfiction, current events, history, science, geography, and most important, lively conversation.

Currently there are two women and six men in the club.                                                                                                                                          

The gatherings, which rotate through the homes of members in alphabetical order, start at 10 am. Each member speaks for two to three minutes offering “likes” and “dislikes” (often raves or rants) followed by a roundtable of thoughts. By 11:30 am the group is ready to select its next read and date. The club meets about once a month year-round and tries to keep the length of the read to about 350 pages. The “next selection” comes from titles members have read something about from online or newspaper book reviews. This writer has been a member of the club since its inception.

At 6 pm on the third Wednesday of the month, the eight core members of the Ladies of the Book club gather (except in June, July, and August).

“I came up with the idea, invited four friends for dinner and together we came up with the club — it needed to be women who loved to read and liked to read different genres,” founder Dorothy Brannon told The MV Times. Those four founding members invited four friends and soon there were a dozen members (the group membership is capped at 12).

Since 2012, the Ladies rotate homes, and the hostess of the gathering selects the book to be read. All selections must be available through the shared library Clams system. The reading genres are “eclectic,” says recording secretary Gretchen Underwood. The evening get-togethers begin with a discussion of the book, over dinner the group “talks trash,” and then over dessert it is back to the book for further discussion.

“The hostess may be asked, ‘Why did you choose this book?’ so she can defend her suggestion,” Underwood said.

The women in the group live on-Island year-round, knew each other through six degrees of separation, and are African American, although this was never an intentional decision. “It is the funniest group of wonderful women you would ever meet,” Underwood added.

Christine Williams, who lives in Chilmark, belongs to a book club that was started many years before she became a member, probably around 2002 she guessed. She joined in 2008. The nine women in the group meet once a month on a Thursday in the mornings around 9 or 9:30, or at 1 in the afternoon during the spring, summer, and autumn months. “It is not about the food,” Williams said, explaining that simple coffee and cookies are served.                                                                                                                                        

The books include fiction, memoirs, and biography. “The fiction we select is not the James Patterson sort of read,” she said. Uniquely the group holds a luncheon in June and selects the books they will read during the coming months of meetings. “We have had some issues about politics,” Williams said, so there are no selections focused on politics or religion.

“One woman left the group because she only wanted to buy paperback books,” Williams said. The members range in age from early 60s to early 80s. Four reside in Edgartown, two in Chilmark, and three in Oak Bluffs.

Four couples, all East Chop neighbors, get together every other month (or every third month)  rotating homes and hosts. The convener selects the book, according to member Liz Huss. The book chosen is discussed over cocktails, dinner is served and afterwards, if the book warrants it, there is further discussion. “We read a great variety of books,” Huss said, adding, “it is interesting to try to find books that appeal to both men and women.”

The group, in their 70s, avoids selections from a “best sellers” list. Although the group has no bylaws, it is strictly limited to four couples because more than that could not be accommodated for the sit-down dinner.

Mary Woodcock of Oak Bluffs belongs to three book clubs on the Island.  “The most important thing about a book club — if it is run well — is that you get to learn . . . the book comes alive to you. You experience many more things about the book than you would have otherwise,” said Woodcock.

And then there is an Island book club unique because the six members include women in their 50s. Founded by Linda Dean of Oak Bluffs about five years ago, the group began as strangers and have now become close friends.

Club member Susan Garrett told the Times that the club meets once a month in early evening April through November. “We start with appetizers and wine — everyone brings something. It is not just about the book, it’s the meal and catching up on each other’s lives,” she said.

This club reads only fiction. Each member comes to the club meeting with a few suggestions for the next read, there is a discussion and a decision is made. “I usually look at the New York Times best seller list or go to Google for suggestions. I am looking for best sellers that have gotten a four-star rating,” Garrett said.

There is no way to know just how many private book clubs are meeting on the Island, but those mentioned here showcase the diversity of clubs here.  

Readers interested in trying out book club membership might start at one of the numerous “open to the public” clubs on the Island, most notably at the public libraries.

The year-round gatherings at the Aquinnah library are called “book group” meetings, rather than “clubs” to be less exclusive-sounding. “Aquinnah being a small town, this is a social event and community gathering,” said library associate Vera Dello Russo.

Dello Russo starts the group conversations with questions, and then the questions “spark the discussion.” The co-ed crowd ranges in age from readers in their 20s to those in their 70s. “And, we try to read just about anything under 300 pages,” Dello Russo added.

The Oak Bluffs Public Library has had several clubs in the past. Its most popular was called Books on Tap, and was held off-site at an Oak Bluffs pub. Now, according to library director Allyson Malik, they would love to have another club if they can find someone to organize the gatherings. She describes the ideal facilitator or organizer as “a voracious reader volunteer who loves to talk about books.”

Public Book ClubsDates & TimesContact
2019: Reading Great Modern Novels

West Tisbury Free Public Library

3rd Wednesday of month: Jan. 4- June 5, 2019,  4-6 pm1042 State Road

Olivia Larsen

508-693-3366

Vineyard Haven Public Library3rd Thursday of month, 1:30-2:30 pm200 Main St.

Anne McDonough

508-696-4211

Edgartown Public Library3rd Wednesday of the month, 4 pm26 West Tisbury Road

Jean Stone moderator

508-627-4221

Contemporary Poetry Book Club

Chilmark Free Public Library

Last Saturday of month

3-4 pm

522 South Rd.

508-645-3360

Aquinnah Public LibraryOnce a month year round. Random date, timeVera Dello Russo

1 Church St.,

508-645-2314

Bunch of Grapes Book Club3rd Monday of month through March, 2019

5-7 pm

Claire Gross

23 Main Street, VH

508-693-2291