Book Clubs Are Beautiful

Book Clubs Are Beautiful

We asked you to tell us about your book club. We wanted to know what made your book clubs special and unique. And we heard from so many of you. The thing that stood out the most for us, was how many of you get support from your book club–how many of you have made lasting friendships (or are at the beginning stages of those life-long friendships). And although each book club was different, it was nice to see so many of you bonding over your love of reading, whether you shared the same opinion of a book with the rest of your club or not.

Book Clubs collage

So, having read over 300 entries, it was very hard to narrow the entrants down. But our valiant panel of celebrity judges did just that. And they came up with five runners up and one winner. Their criteria was based on which book club they’d most like to join. Let us tell you that this race was a close one!

Let’s meet the winning book clubs!

Grand Prize Winner: BOOK FRIENDS ’72

How did your book club start?

Book Friends '72 in 1982

Book Friends '72 in 1982

Picture it: Two sets of degree toting young women meet for the first time at a 1972 book lecture convened that spring by some well-meaning Ottawa-based women’s group. Comparing notes at half time, the two sets of women find the erudite seminar approach is not their cup of tea. They agree to stay in touch and scout out other friends interested in getting together informally to chat and share about a book they’d really enjoyed. And so it came to pass that each set of women along with a clutch of their friends got to meet and greet each other for the first time in the fall of 1972.  “Diary of a Mad Housewife”, “Female Eunuch” “Open Marriage” and “Edible Woman” were among the early books chosen for discussion hmmmmmmm.

By the numbers:

  • we are now marking our 40th season and boast a current membership total of 15 with the most recent member welcomed just this past season and “veteran” members  going back 30 or more seasons. We also keep tabs on a bevy of  former, now, “honorary” members residing in other parts of  the city, the country and beyond;
  •  at some unrecorded point one member fired us for our failure to acknowledge her expertise on all topics.
  • some 360 books by authors at home and throughout the globe have been discussed;
  • another 1,200 tempting titles have made it to our “also ran” listings;
  • 35 children have been raised all gainfully now employed in careers of their choosing;
  • 62 grandchildren have been announced;
  • 3 members from the Club’s earlier years have been mourned (two to breast cancer, one to an aneurysm);
  • 2 husbands of members have died;
  • 2 other husbands have been dispensed with;
  • a grand total of 38 always scrumptious “season-end” pot luck dinner parties have been held each June at which the “male” auxiliary have a yearly opportunity to bond and critique or commend aloud the titles we’ve read.

What makes your book club unique?

Well now, I suppose longevity in and of itself doesn’t make us unique; but, if the panel is awarding bonus points for this, we’ll take ‘em. What does distinguish our club is the nature of its longstanding togetherness. We’ve resisted any tendency to become a rigid, calcified, “we’ve always done it this way”, kind of group: a closed shop so to speak.  It is an open-hearted and open-minded club. It is a club that has become a living book in its own right made up of each member’s life story past, present and yet to come. It is a living book bound by the sheer love of each other’s commitment to the joy that shared reading uniquely imparts.

Given our insatiable appetite for reading and sharing, it is only the size of our living rooms that keeps our membership roster capped at 15. Without that restriction, we’d welcome many, many more members. In a crazy way we already do that by inciting envy and desire in others and encouraging them to form a group of their very own.

So, from my admittedly biased but highly reliable first hand exposure to this Club, I would have to say that our insatiability and unlimited membership combine to make Book Friends ’72 the best book club in Canada.

What is your favourite book club memory?

Book Friends '72 25th Anniversary

Book Friends '72 25th Anniversary

Ouch!  That’s tough to tease out of a 40 year span; however, a three part memory having to do with live authors, camaraderie and group dynamics does spring to mind.Those meetings where we have had an opportunity to hear directly from a book’s author are especially memorable.  Some of the authors we’ve had the privilege of telephoning, emailing or having on hand in person over the years at a book club meeting include:  Bernice Morgan, Keith Harrison, Elizabeth Hay, Frances Itani, Denise Chong, Susan Vreeland, Isabel Huggan, Robert Hellenga, Tim Ward, Penny Williams, Valerie Fitzgerald.  They may not remember us but we are not likely to forget the pleasure of them sharing their direct responses to our queries about their work.  And in a shameless bid to curry favour I’d have to say that  Laurie Grassie, Kelly Armstrong, Terry Fallis, Brian Francis, Gretchen Rubin and Will Schwalbe are right up there among the writers we’d love to have in person at one of our gatherings!

Camaraderie and lively discussion are the stuff of fond memories as book club members convene to tackle the likes and dislikes, profundities, proclivities and perplexities laid bare by any given author on any given theme in any given piece of fiction or non-fiction all the while savouring the delicious “light” munchies, impeccably plated by the hostess

How we function as a group is a mainstay memory especially when it comes to what one member has dubbed the creatively democratic process that has come into play over the course of 40 years and which is relied upon at the top of each season to help determine what books we’ll be reading, in which month, hosted at whose abode and lead by which member. Being located in the nation’s capital has done wonders for sharpening our lobbying skills.  The dynamics though not exactly cast in cement – more like silly putty – can be counted on to get the 9 month season off to a rollicking start. All told the entire process takes anywhere from two to four hours to complete and could no doubt be way more streamlined – but most of us are accustomed to the thrust and parry of the process. Our most recent member seems to have adjusted to it with no apparent psychological damage.

From the judges:

“Those were some impressive stats. Goes to show how deep the history of these book clubs run.” – Brian Francis

“I thoroughly enjoyed the witty tone of the submission. Forty years is a long time, so the longevity achievement is impressive in and of itself.” – Terry Fallis

“For a book club to have lasted that long is indeed an accomplishment, but from the entry, I can see why it has. Their flexibility and obvious camaraderie should keep them going for another forty.” – Kelley Armstrong

“How extraordinary to have kept a book club active for so many years! I have my book groups will last that long. I loved seeing the photos from the early days and from today.” -Gretchen Rubin

“This sounds like a glorious group of book lovers. It’s terrific that they mix long-standing members with brand new members, and I love that it’s “an open-minded and open-hearted club” and “a living book in its own right.” And what an extraordinary journey these members have traveled together. To have that much history and yet be able to be so welcoming to new voices and perspectives is really special. ” – Will Schwalbe

“To me, book clubs are about 2 things, books and people, and this club sounds like it takes both of those things fully to heart. Not to mention it’s gone on forever, and I love the sound of that longevity!” – Laurie Grassi


Runner-Up: The Remainders

Tell us what makes your book club unique.
Unique? Of course we are. I don’t know how many all-male book clubs exist, but I do know none of them have our members, and that’s no idle macho boast. We’re as diverse, potent, interesting and cool as a group of men can be when they exclude women from their club. Our founding geezer, Rob Buckman believed that men feel, think, and behave differently when women are present, and I’d guess that’s as true as its reverse. Read more about The Remainders.
Runner-Up: W.I.T.S. End
Wits End Tell us what makes your book club unique.
After reading Three Cups of Tea, we all decided to make a small difference in our own way. We bring $10 each to every meeting and then let the fund grow. Once it reaches ~$400 we donate it to a charity of our choice, alternating between local and global charities. Our first “charity” was donating kindergarten class sets of home reading books to a school in an impoverished area of our region. Read more about W.I.T.S. End.
Runner-Up: CFUW/KANATA Monday, morning
CFUW/KANATA Monday, morning Tell us what makes your book club unique.
Our original group had 4 visually impaired members, who could not access books and relied on audio formats. We made a commitment to only choose book that were available in the audio version. As far fewer books are recorded, it meant restriction on choices. However, it meant that 4 blind women were able to participate on a level playing field. Those who listen to a book have added immeasurably to the depth of our discussions. Read more about CFUW/KANATA Monday, morning.
Runner-Up: Food For Thought
Food for Thought Tell us what makes your book club unique.
First, we choose books from differing genres, covering the spectrum from Fiction and Non-Fiction to Biographies and Self-Help Books. We select an array of authors, from local personalities in our own province of NL, to writers of Canadian and international renown. Secondly, we attempt to vary our meetings by encouraging the host to decide the particular format a meeting will take. We’ve been treated to such novel ideas as a Pop Quiz, Identify the Quote, Word Scramble and Alphabet Soup, to name just a few. Read more about Food For Thought.
Runner-Up: Port Perry Page Turners
Port Perry Page Turners Tell us what makes your book club unique.
Our book club is unique in many ways. We have 15 members and meet every two months so it’s quite a large gathering when we’re all present. Food and wine play a very large part at our meetings. The book club meets at the home of the person who has chosen that month’s selection and about 2 weeks before the meeting we receive the menu for the night. We are all assigned a dish to bring and the food is specifically designed around the book. Read more about Port Perry Page Turners.

Meet our panel of celebrity judges:

Kelley Armstrong ThirteenKelley Armstrong is the author of eleven novels and two short-story collections in the Otherworld series. She lives in Ontario with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @KelleyArmstrong.
Terry Fallis Up and DownTerry Fallis‘ first book, The Best Laid Plans, began as a podcast, then was self-published, won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, was re-published to great reviews by McClelland & Stewart, and was selected the 2011 winner of CBC’s Canada Reads competition. His most recent novel is Up and Down. Terry Fallis lives in Toronto with his wife and two children. Follow him on Twitter at @TerryFallis.
Brian Francis Natural OrderBrian Francis‘ first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist. His second novel, Natural Order, was a Toronto Star and Kobo “Best Book of 2011.” The novel was also a CBC Bookie Award finalist and is currently nominated for a 2012 Ontario Library Association Evergreen Award. Brian lives in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @BrianTFrancis.
Laurie Grassi Chatelaine BooksLaurie Grassi is a freelance editor, blogger and creative sort extraordinaire. She’s currently the books editor at Chatelaine, and was previously the editor of special issues at Canadian House & Home and the executive editor of Style at Home magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @ChatelaineBooks.
Gretchen Rubin Happier at HomeGretchen Rubin is the author of several books, including the blockbuster #1 New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project. Rubin started her career in law and was clerking for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when she realized that she really wanted to be a writer. Raised in Kansas City, she lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters. Follow her on Twitter at @GretchenRubin.
Will Schwalbe The End of Your Life Book ClubWill Schwalbe has worked in publishing (most recently as senior vice president and editor in chief of Hyperion Books); digital media, as the founder and CEO of; and as a journalist, writing for various publications including The New York Times and the South China Morning Post. He is on the boards of Yale University Press and the Kingsborough Community College Foundation. Follow him on Twitter at @WillSch.


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