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Constance Alexander: More than chocolate and wine, book clubs dive into reading that informs, inspires

In spite of the stereotypes, women getting together to talk about books involves a whole lot more than chick-lit, chocolate, and Chardonnay. Take Paducah’s Diverse Divas, for instance. They gather once a month, via Zoom, to share insights and observations gleaned from reading books about timely issues like race, China’s Cultural Revolution, and the war in Afghanistan.

Retired teacher and the group’s founder, Nancy Powless, was inspired to organize the monthly discussions last June, around the time of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There were so many social issues,” she said. “I talked to friends about women who might be interested and made a list to get started.”

(Photo by seanmfreese)

She contacted potential participants through Facebook’s Messenger, resulting in local members as well as others from Georgia, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. When possible, special guests enrich the discussion. Coming up in October, Gayle Lemmon will join the Divas’ discussion of her book, “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana” about the changes a family of women faced when the Taliban came into power in Afghanistan.

The group ranges in age from twenties to seventies and the readings include fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes the Zoom meetings are as small as four participants, but the number can rise to twelve or fourteen. The format is flexible, so whether everyone finished the book or not, the discussions are enlightening.

Also with a McCracken County connection, Jessica Lanier Sager’s book club meets through Facebook. The group is composed of women who attended the same high school. The give-and-take talks have kindled new connections between old acquaintances.

“It’s funny,” Jessica observed. “We weren’t all close then, but we are now.”

In Christian County, book lovers coalesce to chat and raise their tankards at the Hopkinsville Brewing Company. Books at the Bar prefers fiction, with the September selection “One Little Lie,” by Colleen Coble.

Geneva Parris lives in Trigg County but she treks to Calloway to meet with a group that has endured for more than twenty-five years. She applauds their commitment to be open and inclusive in their reading choices. Over time, participation has ebbed and flowed, based on the changes in members’ lives, but the reading choices have always challenged and broadened her thinking.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Paul Fourshee of Cadiz reports that the Janice Mason Art Museum launched an art book club last year. “Meets quarterly or thereabouts,” he said. The group is not picky about genre as long as there is an art connection. Covid has affected their schedule, according to Fourshee. “We’ve been off for 18 months,” he reported, “and sure miss it.”

As part of regional outreach efforts, the NPR affiliate in Murray, WKMS, conducts a virtual book club. The session scheduled for October 13 will focus on “Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR” by Lisa Napoli.

Besides being a source of inspiration, book groups are a way to make new friends and connections. Deborah Hayward, whose ties to West Kentucky link to time she worked at Land Between The Lakes, wrote to say, “I joined two book clubs when we moved from DC to Indianapolis four years ago. It was a way to meet new people, and forced me to carve out time for reading,” she said.

Hayward is not alone. Although precise statistics are hard to come by, the New York Times estimates that about five million people belong to book clubs. The popular site, Goodreads, boasts more than 40 million members, and publishers have been known to make decisions based book club feedback and support.

After a post on Facebook eliciting information about book group participation, I have to say that the most interesting gathering I’ve come across so far meets in Fort Wayne, Indiana, at Purdue University. Jennifer Symonds Morrison says her sister started it. “We read smut,” Morrison confesses without a blush.

The choices lean toward Harlequin-type romances. “Usually the females have a backbone,” she adds.

The proliferation of book groups is covered in many articles, including a recent one in JStor, a publication that claims to be “where news meets its scholarly match.”

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