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Look before you leap. (books N clubs).

Monica Wooley-Davis walked into the Media Play Bookstore in Columbus, Ohio, looking for a new book, but she left with thoughts of joining a reading club. "There was an advertisement in the bookstore about the formation of a book club for African-American women," Wooley-Davis recalls. She loved the idea of mingling with like-minded readers, but she wondered if joining a book club was as easy as it seemed. Wisely, she sought out further information.

"I wondered about the monthly book selections, whether the meeting locations would be within city limits and about the number of members who'd be joining the club." Satisfied with what she learned about the book club, Wooley-Davis became an active member. When the club disbanded in 1996, she brainstormed with a friend and formed the African Jewels Bookclub. Seven years later, African Jewels has progressed from reading books to providing authors with detailed evaluations of books, as well as getting involved in the community. Wooley-Davis is brimming with enthusiasm.

"A book club is hard work, but I'm excited about it. The avid readers in the club have a passion for reading and discussing books," says Wooley-Davis. African Jewels members know that "business matters come first and the book discussion comes later," says Wooley-Davis, who runs the book club meetings according to Robert's Rules of Order. "This is not a social club. Members should satisfy their concerns before joining, by considering the structure of the group and asking themselves if they are truly motivated to participate."

Wooley-Davis' initial reservations about joining a book club have played out in a very positive way. But book club members Felicia Hart and Marva Bishop haven't been quite as lucky.

Going the Distance

After lending books to family, friends and coworkers, Felicia Hart toyed with the idea of joining a formal book discussion group. Upon learning that a new reading group was forming in her New Jersey community, she attended an orientation meeting and plunked down a hefty registration fee, but neglected to ask pertinent questions about the club's operating procedures.

"I was intrigued that the group alternated between discussing literature and evaluating African-American movies," says Hart. What she didn't consider was the fact that the group met twice each month--once on a Tuesday evening and again on a Saturday afternoon. Faced with the daunting task of attending two monthly meetings, Hart found herself facing a hectic commute. Getting from her New York City job to her New Jersey reading group proved difficult and frustrating. "I had to leave work early just to arrive on time," she says. Then there was the issue with the books.

If she had asked for a copy of the club's reading list before joining, Hart would have known that the majority of the titles were heavy hitters. "The books were loaded with reference notes and historical data. It was like reading The Mis-Education of the Negro three times a week." Hart's taste leaned toward the classics, serious fiction and non-fiction, not reference materials or historical tomes. When she later learned the reading list was chosen exclusively by the founders of the group, Hart found herself at a crossroads.

"I was struggling to get through the books and killing myself to get to the meetings. I was not having a good time." Just six months after joining, Hart left the club with a new understanding. "Joining a book club is about more than simply reading the books. It takes a lot of time and energy. I had to get off the treadmill."

Time Is of the Essence

Like Hart, Marva Bishop often thought about joining a book club. The Washington, D.C., native was working a five-year plan to start her own business, marry her childhood sweetheart, have two children and purchase a home--with a white picket fence, of course. So her book club dream had easily fallen to the bottom of her to-do list. However, when a longtime girlfriend invited her to attend a monthly book club meeting, Bishop checked her calendar and tagged along.

"The first meeting was wonderful," says Bishop. "The group members were all friends who'd known each other for years. I enjoyed their spirit of intimacy." Since the meeting dates fit her hectic schedule, becoming a part of the book club was something she thought she could fit into her calendar. Bishop joined, but her enthusiasm was short lived.

"Time and again I found myself watching the clock," Bishop says, recalling monthly meetings where members arrived late or failed to show up at all. Some never bothered to purchase the book and others made no attempt to read it. Before long, Bishop realized that she'd joined the wrong reading group and dreaded the meetings.

"The women in the group were laid back individuals who wanted to kick back and catch up on the latest gossip. It was more like a social club instead of a book club." The group's carefree atmosphere was a reflection of the members' personalities. Bishop, however, lived by her day planner and desired a group with more structure. "Time is like money," she explains. "I spend my money wisely and I don't have time to waste lounging for hours at a book club that barely touches on a book discussion."

After four grueling months of conversations that revolved around episodes of The Young and the Restless, Bishop, like Hart, left her reading group and is revising her game plan. "I'm thinking about starting my own book club," Bishop muses. "There are a lot of items to consider, so I'm doing my research. It takes a while for the true pattern of a book club to reveal itself. I know that, now. Next time, I won't jump in immediately. I'll look around before I leap."

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Article Details
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Author:Houser, Pat
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2003
Words:965
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