The Chautauqua Society of Indianapolis.
We started in 1995 as a lunchtime reading group at work, with three or four members, and met for about three years. When I retired, we moved the group out of the office and opened up membership to any interested reader who could commit to regular attendance. Membership has leveled off at 10 to 14 people of our 16 regulars who live in the Indianapolis area. We have a monthly newsletter that goes out to approximately 50 people, many of whom read the selections regularly and offer comments by e-mail. Our long-distance members are scattered all over the United States, and we even have one member in the United Kingdom and one in Australia.
How would you describe your group?
We are not highly sophisticated readers or academics. Rather, we are a group of people who share the pure pleasure of reading. We like to discover new writers, and we enjoy being led out of our normal reading patterns to find out about writers, subjects, and genres that we might have missed were it not for the monthly reading selections.
How does your group operate?
We are somewhat unique in our reading-list format. We offer our members a selection of books to read each month, with a connection among the books on the list. They may be by the same author, they may have been written in the same period, or they may be connected by genre or by subject. Our discussions always focus on "connecting the dots"! At the start of each meeting, we poll the members to see who read what; then we group the members together to describe the books; finally, all of us join in with questions and observations.
How do you decide which books to read?
We are very undemocratic! As the leader, and with my wife's help, I research various possibilities starting about July, and my wife and I develop a theme for the following year. We unveil the list at the November meeting, and we then follow that up with a feature article on the reading list for the upcoming year in our December newsletter. A look at our themes for recent years serves to illustrate:
2002 One Hundred Years of American Bestsellers, 1900-2000
2003 The Sweep of British Novels, 1800-2000
2004 The Favorite Books of Chautauqua Society Members
2005 The Favorite Books of Twenty of our Favorite Writers--from Lloyd Alexander to Amy Tan
2006 Important Books by Authors from "The Colonies" (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc.)
2007 South Toward Home: An Exploration of Southern Writers from 1960 to the Present For 2008, we asked our favorite independent booksellers around the country to recommend their favorite books. The result is a wonderful array of books.
What are some of the group's favorite books?
An early favorite was Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. In our "Authors from 'The Colonies'" year, we enjoyed The Pied Piper by Nevil Shute. Elizabeth Berg's Open House was a big hit, as was Mark Helprin's A Soldier of the Great War. Wendell Berry is an author we have read many times, with Jayber Crow perhaps our favorite. A surprise hit was The Big Picture by Douglas Kennedy, and we have loved every book by Clyde Edgerton.
What are some of the least popular books you have read?
As the leader, I have taken considerable lumps for having placed on the list God's Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell, The Sharpshooter Blues by Lewis Nordan, The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, and Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey.
What advice do you have for other groups?
Choose a time and a venue for your meetings, and then stick to your plan. Socialize only after the meeting, and keep meeting time for discussing the books. Consider more than one selection for each month, to give readers a choice. Our attendance and the quality of our discussion increased greatly after we changed our format.
SUBMITTED BY DANIEL KENDALL
A unique profile of readers together.
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|Date:||Sep 1, 2008|
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