The long-running Scarboro Women's Book Club has two rules: 1) Please read the book, and 2) If you didn't read the book, please don't comment on it.
But there are a few other things that set this neighbourhood book club apart. For one, it's been around since 1977, and at times has had a years-long waiting list. Today, it boasts several generations of members and seven chapters, all in a community of about 300 homes.
The Calgary Eyeopener caught up with long-time member Mary Alice Saunders to find out how a book club can keep going — and growing — for more than 40 years.
The following interview has been edited for clarity and length. Listen to the interview here.
Q: Is it still just for women?
A: It is still just for women. We do have rules, and this is one that we're going to stick to.
Q: So why did Carol McLoy Costa start the book club way back in the '70s?
A: Well, I think she and other women who were at home with young children felt that they needed a little bit more intellectual stimulation, and they wanted to get out of the house. So the idea of reading and the opportunity to read and to share the experience was very appealing. And the book club came into reality.
Q: And you've been a part of it pretty much since Day 1?
A: Not since Day 1. Because we meet in individual homes, the number of people who can be accommodated at one time is probably limited by how many chairs you can fit into the living room. So in the early days, probably 10 was the limit in the book club. And very soon after that, wait lists started, and I joined, I think, in '84, and I'd been on the wait list for probably three years.
Q: A wait list for a book club?
A: Really, what was happening is, someone moved out of Scarboro, and then a place would become available, so I did get into the book club. And very shortly thereafter, one of our founding members, Georgia Black, had the brilliant idea of how to manage that wait list dilemma, and that was let's establish Book Club 2. So she shepherded into existence Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4. Now we're up to Chapter 7.
Q: How many members does that entail?
A: Well, each group probably has around 10 members, so it's about 70 in a community of around 300 homes.
Q: Is it only for residents of Scarboro?
A: It's not really, having multiple chapters has allowed members who leave the community to come back, still maintaining their association with the book club, and bringing in friends. So if you have a tether to the community, certainly the opportunity is there is to join.
Q: And I mentioned the rules. Off the top, there's one that's pretty important, right?
A: Our particular chapter has a couple of bylaws. And the first bylaw is please read the book. The second one is if you haven't read the book, you're very welcome to attend the meeting but please do not share your opinion on the book that you haven't read.
Q: This is based on past practice, people doing such?
A: Yes. And it just doesn't happen anymore.… It's their option to be in attendance but in the past we did have people who were giving opinions on the book that they hadn't read. And it just wasn't that helpful.
Q: Have you read anything that has stood out over the year or the years, where the club has all agreed this is the top book we've ever read?
A: I think we all have our personal favourites. And for me, when I think about a book that I just love, and it just comes to the top of mind, is probably Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall On Your Knees. And the other is Wallace Stegner, Crossing To Safety.
Q: Any stinkers?
A: No, but we did have one experience where we chose a book, I think, on the brilliance of the cover. It was a wonderful cover, but the rest of it really wasn't. So it really goes back to "don't judge a book by the cover." And in this case, it was a reversal, but sometimes when we do pick a book that's just not great, we always get something out of it — just the general discussion.
Q: How many friendships have you maintained that are that long running?
A: It's remarkable how enduring the friendships are. And it goes beyond just the monthly book club. Many of us travel together, we hike together, and in our case and our chapter, we even wrote a romance novel together. Together, we took several trips to Banff for hilarious weekends of writing, and although we came very close to finishing the book, we never completed it due to the illness of our leader.
Q: What's the secret to keeping it alive after all these years?
A: I think that it's the relationships, the enduring friendships, the ability to share personal thoughts. Really, it's enduring because we love reading, love the opportunity to share, and it just keeps us coming back month after month.
With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.