Book groups.

Author:Ortmann, Bob
Position:Book clubs management


What makes your book group unique?

As we approach our 50th book selection, I look back at our all-male group, mostly retirees, and see how we have been enriched by the experience. We have read a number of the selections I would never have picked to read myself, but I have either learned interesting things about the topic or just thoroughly enjoyed the book. We invite to many of our gatherings people who have personal insights on the topic. A Civil War historian joined our discussion of Michael Shaara's The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War, which focuses on the battle of Gettysburg; a member of our community who grew up in South Africa under apartheid came for our discussion of Alan Paton's Cry, the Beloved Country; and we invited a New York City police detective who authored Circle of Six (by Randy Jurgensen and Robert Cea), about his partner who was killed in a Harlem mosque. Some of our members come to our discussion with unique insights or experiences about specific topics. A doctor related his experiences as we reviewed Samuel Shem's House of God, a book about the medical profession; a book publisher who knows and edits works by Bill Bryson brought his insights when we discussed Bryson's In a Sunburned Country; and a son of a German aviation soldier, whose father had taken pictures of the trench warfare described in Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on Western Front, illuminated discussion of that book.

How is group organized and how do we select books?

Two restaurants in town have a private room where we can meet and have a hamburger, wings, or other food with a beer or wine. The person selecting the book leads the discussion, with an initial roundtable talk of two to three minutes from each member. I maintain a "Recommended Reading List," which is updated for each gathering from e-mails received from members. Then a majority rules on each selection.

What books has your group enjoyed most?

We tend to read more nonfiction books than fiction, such as Timothy Egan's The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America (about a forest fire larger than three states, which led to formation of the National Forest Service) and Chet Raymo's Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space...

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