This month, Mary of the ELCAN book club shares with us the logistical challenges and many benefits of a corporate book club.

Book Club Interviews

This month, Mary of the ELCAN book club shares with us the logistical challenges and many benefits of a corporate book club.

Hello Mary, thanks for chatting with BookBrowse. Firstly, tell us about your book club’s name – most book clubs that have a name tend to choose something whimsical related to books. The ELCAN club doesn’t quite fit the mold – why are you so called? Our book club is a corporate organization with ELCAN being the name of a division of the Raytheon Corporation. ELCAN is an acronym for Ernst Leitz Canada which refers to one of the founders, Ernst Leitz of Germany. ELCAN’s offices are currently located in Midland, Ontario, Canada, Richardson, Texas, and Malaga, Spain. The home of the ELCAN Book Club is in Richardson, Texas where the U. S. division of ELCAN is located.

How was the club formed?

Through the years, as employees interacted, it became apparent that there was a common interest in books and reading. A lending library had been established on the honor system for the sharing of books. The Employee Council, which sponsors all company organizations, was approached with a request for there to be an employee book club and the request was granted. The ELCAN Book Club was formed in 2003.

Back Row (l. to r.): Mike Bledsoe, Marsha Lierly, Janet Baker, Bill Lambert. Front Row (l. to r.): Gerald Riley, Mary Bass, Mike Gori.

Can you tell us a little about your members?

We currently have eight members, five men and three women. All are employees with the exception of one who is the spouse of an employee. Departments represented within the group are Finance, Contracts, Engineering, Program Management, Administration, and Maintenance.

How would you describe your group's personality?

We're an eclectic group, aged in the 50s and 60s, drawn together by a love of reading that enjoys "brown bag" lunch meetings with stimulating discussions. Meetings are spurred on by our administrator, revolving moderators, and even a "ghost" member who is a person with special needs who attends our meetings by speaker phone and fully participates.

How do you run your meetings?

We usually meet every three weeks but if a book is of great length or is conceptually intricate, we allow four weeks. Although we meet during business hours, we meet on our own time in the lunch hour. Everyone brings their lunch and nibbles while we talk. Since we are a sanctioned organization within the company, we are able to reserve a conference room for each meeting.  We've been able to enhance our meetings by using company equipment: overhead projectors, speaker phones, blackboards, etc. At the conclusion of each meeting, our members, with the exception of our "ghost", return to their work areas and go back to doing ELCAN business.

Your club is relatively unusual in that you are roughly balanced between men and women, whereas many groups are single sex, usually women. How do you think the mix of sexes effects the conversation?

At times the male perspective has been parallel to the thinking of the women in our group and at others it's been diverse. Male opinions tend to be deliberate and straight to the point while those of the females are flush with details. Both of these avenues enhance our discussions in that they create a more complete analysis. This was especially evident in our recent examination of the Amish community in our reading The Plain Truth by Jodi Picoult.

How flexible are you on people coming to meetings?

Flexibility is a must in our club as there are times when members cannot attend because business has to take precedence. Client meetings, project deadlines, and general business must come first. However, we collaborate on scheduling at each meeting and are able to skirt most roadblocks. We communicate to those absent by email and make changes as necessary.

Do you get together as a group outside of your book club meetings?

Outside of the book club meetings we get together at various company functions such as the corporate olympics, the annual picnic, various sports teams, ice cream socials, birthday celebrations, popcorn gatherings, commemorations of service anniversaries, and the annual holiday party.

What would you say is an ideal number of members for a book club to have?

Our conference room tables have seating for 10 - 12 people and there’s space in the rooms for extra chairs to be brought in if needed. In order to have the most comprehensive discussions at each meeting, with everyone participating, it would likely be best to limit the club size to no more than 15. We are always open to adding new members and recently grew from 7 to 8. "Now reading" posters are posted each time we start a new book to let everyone in the building know the title and author of the current book being read.

How many work at your location?

The ELCAN division of Raytheon Corporation is made up of more than 1200 employees with 200 working at our location.

Have you been tempted to read "business" titles, or do you always kept the selections away from work?

We read fiction selections only as it was decided that ours should be a leisure time club. There are certain genres which we agreed not to read: romance and science fiction. We have made a couple of exceptions in reading non-fiction but the books we chose have content and pace that read like that in novels. One of these non-fiction selections which we all deemed to be excellent was Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil by John Berendt.

How do you select your books?

We develop our lists of selections by each member presenting a title, author, and synopsis to our club’s Administrator. This data is then shared club-wide and each of us ranks the books in the order in which we would like to read them. After the voting is done, our Administrator uses a spreadsheet to calculate the final order and we start to read.

Which are some of the group’s favorites/least favorites?

Favorites: Red Leaves by Thomas H. Cook, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving, Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson, The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom, and Animal Farm by George Orwell.

Least Favorites: My Dark Places by James Ellroy, The Disapparition Of James by Anne Ursu, Mirror, Mirror by Gregory Maguire, and The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho.

Have there been books that the group have enjoyed reading but have not made for good discussion? Or vice versa?

While Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was found enjoyable, the discussion was somewhat flat. This was possibly due to so many elements of the book being alien to our readers in that we couldn’t equate with the life styles and difficulties of the characters. We had an intricate discussion of The Last Of The Honky Tonk Angels by Marsha Moyers even though the content of this book was akin to a soap opera. Perhaps the heightened emotions within the major players may have struck a chord in some of our own emotions.

We've often discussed the many ways in which the books we’ve read have caused us to grow, individually and collectively, whether they have been those we have termed our "best", "worst", or "surprise" choices.

Are there any challenges your group has faced and resolved?

Our group has run very smoothly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that we are very open with each other as well as respectful of all opinions. One of the best facets of our club is that we inject a lot of humor in all that we do. We kid and poke fun at each other as well as finding as much humor in what we read and the ways in which we read as possible. Laughter is definitely a predominate feature at all of our meetings.

Any last words of wisdom to share?

General Advice: Elect a club Administrator who can send meeting reminders and keep a list of all books read. Moderators should be prepared to write discussion questions that are ‘meaty’ enough to engender good discussion points when there is no readers guides available for a chosen book. Make sure that the time allotted for reading each book is sufficient for all members.

Corporate Book Club Advice: Request that your book club be listed among all organizations existing within your workplace. Continually spread the word about the club and its activities. Always seek new members. Make the club known to new employees. Agree that all club-related matters will be decided by majority vote. Always reserve meeting rooms and company-owned equipment ahead of time. Adhere to start and stop times. Laugh as much as possible.

© September 2007.

Would you be interested in being interviewed for this feature? If so, please contact us with brief details about your club. It is very helpful if you include both a contact email and a telephone number.
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