How did the group get started?
I figured the long winters in Alaska would be an ideal time to recruit folks that were looking for some activity and a chance to socialize. Since I work for the National Park Service, I move around a lot, and most of the places I live in are isolated and sparsely populated. After many years of moving to new communities and wishing for a book discussion group to join, I decided to start one myself. We began with five folks. The local community college--the Copper Basin campus of Prince William Sound Community College in Glennallen, Alaska-became our sponsor. Glennallen is the most centrally located community for our far-flung members, some of whom drive over 100 miles to our discussion.
How does the group operate?
We meet once a month between October and March. The leader facilitates the discussion, and each member prepares a question and shares information on a research topic he or she has chosen from the book. For example, when we were reading Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies, a group favorite, one participant researched Trujillo and the revolution in the Dominican Republic. Sometimes we assign optional "homework" for the fun of it. When we read Terry Ryan's The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio--about a mother who supported her family by writing jingles for contest money--we all tried our hand at jingle writing.
I'm glad I use Dial After mucking the stalls I don't smell so vile. How do you select your books?
At our meeting in March, the group suggests themes for the next winter. The leader researches the ideas, chooses the selections, prepares the schedule, orders the books, and distributes them to the members. Buying in bulk helps keep our costs down. So far, our themes have included Living in the Far North, Memoirs, Magical Realism, Artists and Their Art, and Comedy.
What books ignited the best discussion?
When we focused on memoirs, Melba Pattillo Beals's Wariors Don't Cry-about the integration of Little Rock High School in...