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Not your great grandmother's book club

75 years of history

The members of the Friday Book Club. Courtesy photo

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In 1941, the village of Lakewood did not yet have its own public library. What it did have was a group of 18 avid women readers who decided to replace their frequent trips into the downtown Tacoma library with a circulating book exchange they called the Friday Book Club. Their decision to conserve scarce resources foreshadowed what was soon to involve all of the country after World War II broke out that December.

Even before gas rationing began in early 1942, people were encouraged to voluntarily cut back on driving in order to reduce demand on the Nation's short supply of rubber. It was just one of the many war efforts, along with serving in the armed services, working in defense industries, volunteering on the home front, or making do with the scarcity of butter, meat, and other foods and raw materials.

An Enduring Blueprint  

Started by women of the country's "Greatest Generation," the club is about to enter its 75th year of continuous existence, and members feel others might benefit by hearing the club's history and formula for success. Still limited to 18 active members who join by invitation, the group continues to follow the original by-laws of the club with only minor revisions.

For example, instead of a book committee that yearly chose 18 late edition books, as originally specified, each member now purchases a book to contribute annually. This makes for a year of diverse offerings. As one member says, "I never would have chosen a lot of the books that I've enjoyed if they hadn't been some of our club books. I've learned so much."

Read Now - Talk Later

Each year the women draw lots to partner with another member with whom they will share two of the 18 books each month, from September through May. One month during the year, they'll also host a luncheon for the club in one of their homes.

In September, each member presents a brief synopsis of the book she chose and why it was selected. But, since it takes nine months for all 18 books to be available to each of the members, the group as a whole does not immediately discuss them. Instead, except for the September and June meetings, each month's hostesses are responsible for a program, which is often presented by an invited expert.

Program subjects can range from what's involved in volunteering as a guardian ad litem, cheese-making, belly dancing, or a presentation by an author on childhood hunger in America. The group is also a staunch supporter of charities, such as Fish Food Banks and Pierce County Library.

Save the Spoilers for June

There is the opportunity, but no requirement, to read each of the books. Unlike an ordinary book club, there is no need to stay away or feel intimidated if you haven't read the month's selection. Discussion within the club as a whole is limited until that final meeting of the year in June when there is no longer a danger of spoiling anyone's read.  Of course, there is nothing to prevent a member's talking about the books with her partner as they finish reading them, but no one wants to give away the endings for others in the club.

Shifting Gears

Those members who can no longer participate fully in the club's activities are free to change status to become associate members. They then attend when they can as guests but no longer participate in the book exchange or act as luncheon hostesses.

Jean Wilson, who has belonged to the group for 56 of its 75 years, recently made the transition when she realized she now felt more comfortable with the larger print available on a Kindle-type device.  

Welcome to the Family

Friday Book Clubbers tend to view membership as a kind of family affair where no one wants to miss a get-together if they can help it. Members come into the club because they love books, but soon feel they have acquired life-long friends.

As one member explained, "Because of the book club I have gotten to know knowledgeable women I now care about but probably would never have met otherwise. That makes it very special." Members also underscore how much they feel they can depend upon one another for help and support in a crisis. Interestingly, half of all current members have been military spouses or offspring, and many feel their book club formula might be a good fit for today's spouses.

Although reading is the unifying theme of the Friday Book Club, these book mavens have pursued a variety of professions that include WASP pilot, gourmet chef, writer, teacher, paralegal and dental hygienist. The most common characteristic cited by Wilson and many others is that the members are "so well read and have so much to share in their experiences."

Another frequent response to membership is, "The club has changed my life in that I try to arrange my calendar around our monthly meeting day." Although addicted to reading, members are also insatiably curious about history, the arts, gardening, the environment and great food.  

A Year of Celebration  

Their yearlong commemoration of one of the oldest book clubs in America will take many forms, such as the October meeting's focus on the 1940's, with food, program, and perhaps attire to commemorate the decade. It promises to be a creative 12 months of remembrance and activities, culminating in a grand celebration in August of 2016. Stay tuned.

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