April of 1997 witnessed the first meeting of the Barnes & Noble Classics Book Club. Father Marc Clavier, an Anglican priest employed part-time at the Barnes & Noble Bel Air location, was the originator and leader of the club. His first choice was Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
There were probably about six people in attendance that night. Father Clavier moved out of state years ago, but the book group still meets at the same time and place: the third Monday of each month (except December) at 7:30 pm. From the original club three members are still involved: Kay Saucier,(who serves as the club’s unofficial historian), Deborah Rockwell, and Daniel Kelly.
At present they have been joined by eight others, many with years of attendance behind them. The singular benefit of this club, beyond the enjoyment of the literature itself, is ease of movement. Members can attend every month, miss a couple of months or a year and come back anytime. Dropping in for a particular book or author is encouraged, and the discussion may be enticing enough that a return visit is warranted.
How does a book club last so long and why are people attracted to it?
Great literature is the answer. This club is about the book, what the book tells us about the human condition and why it has stood the test of time. Historical context and biographical information are discussed as well as the book.
Meetings usually last an hour and a half with time for more social conversation at the end, but they have been known to last longer. The meeting is over when the discussion peters out so there are no hard and fast rules about the length of the discussions.
Differences of opinion during the discussion are welcomed and appreciated; indeed, the best evenings occur when there are disagreeing factions, leading to courteous yet intense arguments. Throughout the years the members have agreed on a number of literary works. On the top of the “disliked” list are Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, To Have and Have Not by Ernest Hemingway, and The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym by Edgar Allan Poe. Two of the all-time favorites are Stoner by John Williams and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. The all-time favorite shorter work? “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville.
The discussions are nearly always far-ranging, lively and pleasant because the members possess a wealth of knowledge about books, and a talent for presenting their facts and discussion points with clarity and supporting details. Many members are life-long readers and belong to other book clubs as well. Core members have been together long enough to be able to include other books by the same author or with a similar tone into the discussion and to make references to past books.
Any and all tastes are appreciated and respected as long as the novel is considered a classic, and there is a definite attempt to read literature from other continents, not just American or European literature. Unlike the movies, however, there are no “instant classics” in the Barnes & Noble oeuvre.
This description may sound a bit daunting if someone wanted to join the group but as Mary Eck, one of the newest members stated, “It is very easy to ease into this club.” It is easy because all you need is a love of books. Your level of education and the extent of your experience with the classics are not issues. This discussion is meant to put the book in a context that makes it understandable and intriguing. The novel is the starting point, the discussion afterwards makes the story live and offers context to our present day.
The flexibility of this meeting has advantages in the busy lives many have. Anyone can drop in and be included, there is absolutely no pressure to continue but there is a resounding chorus of welcoming and invitations to come back again. It is not necessary to participate in the discussion if you just want to listen, but usually everyone finds the discourse intriguing enough that diving in is a must.
Each member has a chance to pick a monthly book and to lead the discussion in whatever fashion that feels comfortable to them. The discussion leader can jot down a few questions or do hours of research; There is no judgment on how to lead because ultimately the members take over the bulk of the discussion anyway.
Admittedly this is one of my book clubs, and the reason I like it is that we always find something to laugh about, even in tomes like Anna Karenina or Of Human Bondage. Yes, there is some very challenging serious reading, but the discussion can be light, fun and, informative. There have been times that I neglected to read the book, and still felt comfortable enough to attend the meeting.
I appreciate the insight that my fellow members have and I always learn from them, sometimes learning that it is a book that I can miss, or it is a book I had misjudged. Most of the books I have read over the years for this meeting have added tremendously to my intellectual life, even if I wasn’t fond of the book. It doesn’t matter if I “liked” the book or not; I know by the end of the meeting I will leave with my appreciation of literature deepened and a happier countenance in general. In this book club we have never forgotten a very important fact about literature: it was meant to be enjoyed!
From left to right: Kay Saucier, Anne Martinelli, Deborah Rockwell, Jim Baker, Mary Eck, Edna Hynes, Daniel Kelly.
We have a website www.classicbookclub.net. Click on and see if you like our selections!
Attention: Any Book Clubs that would like to be featured in The Dagger, please contact Susan Kelly.