BookBrowse interviews The Y Book Club about all aspects of their book club.

Book Club Interviews

The Y Book Club

Based in Edmonds, WA, the Y Book Club is full of love for books and for each other. Tamara Ellis Smith interviews founder Marganna King:

Hello Marganna! Welcome! Can you start by telling us a bit about your book group?

The Y BookclubOur group is the Y Book Club. We hold steady with 8 or 9 members – all women, ages 50 to 78, diverse in our interests and skills. We are comprised of three nurses, five counselors and teachers, and one Title officer. Half of us are retired. Until recently, we lived within a 5-mile radius of each other, about 15 miles north of Seattle in Edmonds. But one member has recently moved north 100 miles from us—

Oh no—

Well, she actually continues to attend our meetings.

That speaks to the closeness of your club for sure! How did you all get started?

Here’s how we got started: In 2010 I was attending a 9-month Get Healthy class at our local YMCA. We met every 2 weeks with a group of 20 people plus our facilitator to discuss pathways to health. Another member and I spent every spare minute talking about books and more books! It was wonderful!

Oh, that sounds wonderful!

We’d read so many of the same books and she was vast resource for me. Toward the end of our 9-month class, the YMCA Programs Director was starting “Affinity Groups” to meet at the Y.

What are Affinity Groups?

They are basically “interest groups." The YMCA Director was asking various groups of members about their special interests - passions outside of the Y. It was very obvious my interest was books and reading and discussing books -

I can relate!

- so I was asked with another member to lead a book special interest group.

This was a natural for my new book friend and me, so we agreed to start a book group, which would meet at the Y once a month for an hour in the evening.

We started with a handful of people for the first meeting. By the second meeting my friend had a new job in addition to starting a small business venture with her husband.

Uh oh—

Needless to say, I was now the Fearless Leader of a small but interested book group.

How was that?

It worked out for a couple months, maybe, but it was soon apparent one hour was not going to accommodate us, especially with parking making it tough for a timely start and the next group peering in at us at the end of our 50-minute “hour”.

50 minutes to talk about a book? Impossible!

Yes! Since we all conveniently lived close to the Y, I suggested we meet at my house the next few times which allowed us to spend an adequate time visiting with each other and having the book discussion. Quickly other members offered their homes and we had a BOOK CLUB—

Hooray!

Hence The “Y” Book Club. Four of us are from that original start-up.

Can you tell us a little about your meetings?

We meet once a month – they’re scheduled for the second Tuesday of the month, but with great flexibility depending on the group’s consensus. Our December meeting is our “Beaujolais, Birthdays and Books” potluck dinner where we just have fun and talk about books we’ve read or heard about that could be a suggestion for the club.

Oh, that sounds like so much fun!

The last two years we’ve enhanced the magnificent dinner & book discussion with lighting Wish Papers that float up to the ceiling amid great laughter.

What are Wish Papers?

Directly from the Wish Paper box: “Think of a special wish, your fondest dream, your deepest desire, your ambitions, concerns or burdens. Write it on the Flying Wish Paper. Shape the paper into a tube and place it on the Wish Platform. Light the top edge of the tube & watch it burn down in a small beautiful flame; magically lifts off the platform & rises to the heavens.”

February brings our “Men Included” meeting, so our book that month is chosen with great care in the hopes that it will be of interest to men.

What does that mean?

Well, we are a book club of women but we are all married. In February, (we call it our Valentines meeting,) we invite all the men to join us in a book discussion. This meeting includes a full pot luck dinner before the book discussion. (Our normal format is more snack - finger food.) For this meeting we make an effort to select a book we believe the men will enjoy reading and discussing.

Such as - The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, The Boys in the Boat - Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown, Gifts of the Crow - How Perception, Emotion and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans by John Marzluff and Tony Angell, The Tender Bar: A Memoir by J. R. Moehringer, and The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom.

You all have such interesting meetings, don't you? Everyone must look forward to them all month!

We tried to skip September due to several having heavy commitments that month, but that didn’t last. Come if you can is one of our mottos.

How do you pick books?

We have a variety of ways to select books. We are all readers and get our information about books from many sources – each other, friends, book stores, magazines, reviews, strangers on planes—

Ha! Love it!

We like to pick several months, if not the entire year, in advance. Sometimes we struggle with “just the right one” but we usually have a list stretching out several months at least. If we get additional info on a book and decide it’s not the best pick, we change it. Half of our book selections are nonfiction and half are fiction. We tend to steer away from the best seller lists but not always. We also select books based on availability – paperback editions and at the library.

You all are pragmatic.

Yes, I’m beginning to see an element of flexibility in our success.

Yes! Flexible and pragmatic. A great combination. What else can you tell me about your meetings?

Our food is marvelous! Always! From cheese/crackers/nuts to fantastic salads and what would be considered a main dish. We are all also good cooks!

Flexible, pragmatic, book-loving chefs! Perfect!

We try to keep the food simple but it’s always delicious.

How do you run your meetings?

We meet at 7:00, enjoy the food and catch up with members for 30 or so minutes. Then we gather to discuss the book. Not everyone reads the entire book every time and that’s OK. Those that have not read the book can expect spoilers – we don’t hold back in our discussion. Sometimes we use the available questions we find either in the book or online. At the beginning of the meeting we TRY not to say if we liked or disliked the book but that’s a hard one. The discussion is what’s important, but it seems impossible not to say something that pretty well states I LOVED or I HATED this book.

Yes, that’s tough to hide, isn’t it?

Yes but being respectful and accommodating to each member is easy. We often differ in our assessment of the book, but we listen carefully to everyone’s opinion.

Okay! On to the books. Can you tell us about the sort of books you read?

We’ve read maybe 225 books – everything from silly (Can You Keep A Secret by Sophie Kinsella) to serious (Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt & Dickie Edge), from fiction (A Gentleman in Moscow Amor Towles) to non-fiction (The Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon), from mystery (Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny) to memoirs (The Tender Bar by J. R. Moehringer). We have read books with a touch of fantasy (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern) and science fiction (The Martian by Andy Weir) and even a graphic novel (Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi).

I think we’d all agree some selections were great books, like All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, above mentioned A Gentleman in Moscow. Some books were liked by some but not so much by others such as The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield; The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt.

I don’t think there’s ever been a book we’d say “bombed” or nobody liked at least some aspects of the book. Sometimes we’d just stop reading & go hear what others liked / how others appreciated the book. That’s a benefit to a club. Definitely some books lend themselves to serious discussions (like Wild by Cheryl Strayed) while others are “just a good read” (like The Life and Times of Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson).

Our current list includes The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom, Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance, All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by E-Kelli Estes, Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa and Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.

You’ve got a wonderful list! One more question, Marganna. What makes the Y Book Club special?

A hard question! But as I was talking this over with my daughter, I hit upon what I believe is the secret. We are a book club – a group of women who love book discussions and the social aspects of the meetings – but each of us is an individual friend to every other person in the club. I tossed this idea out to a few of the members and they agreed it is our friendships! We are each an individual star which becomes part a constellation and then turns into a Milky Way.

What a beautiful metaphor.

We’re also funny. When I asked the group if they were okay with pictures being sent to you – oh my gosh – I got back so many funny statements: “Yes, as long as photoshop is in play.” “The pictures will be okay if we will look like Meg Ryan, Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, Isabelle Rossini, and Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.”

Ha!

And then they started talking about wanting a calendar with us dressed up as books—

Oh my gosh, that’s hilarious!

—preferably large books—

You are cracking me up!

—coffee table books!

Stop!

Seriously though, we are fortunate to live in a community with many activities and opportunities to enjoy such as community theater, farmers’ markets, the symphony (one of our members plays the French horn and invites us to her performances), and berry picking. The list goes on. But at the very top of it is how we love and support each other.

Oh yes.

We or our husbands have had some serious issues in the last couple years. Our friendships have helped brighten some dark days.

One of our members said it best: Our book club cannot be explained – only enjoyed!

I understand that! But even so, you have explained it well, Marganna. The Y Book Club sounds incredibly warm and special. Thank you for sharing your story with us!

© BookBrowse.com July 2019.

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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