What it takes to run a book club for more than half a century

In 1964, a young mother called Charm had an idea. What if there was a time and space she could meet with other women and not talk about the children? Don’t get her wrong, talking about her children was important to her – just not all the time.

This was the beginning of a book club in Perth, Western Australia, that I’ve been attending for the past 25 years. At 84, I am one of the younger members. The original group of six made surprisingly detailed rules that remain virtually unchanged. Monthly meetings would be in members’ homes, starting at 8pm with a glass of sherry, wine or fruit juice, and concluding with tea, coffee and sandwiches. Discussion would proceed like a university tutorial: working through the prepared questions and led by the chooser of the book. There would be no irrelevant talk of children or family matters. The hostess would hand out the book for the following month, along with a set of questions, and be repaid the cost.

The time was set so young children would be in bed and easily minded by their fathers. Like most book clubs, even today, it was for women only. The rule about refreshments aimed to prevent any escalation of competitive cooking – always likely to happen in women’s groups. The main goal was to ensure that the focus was always on the quality of the books, the love of reading and the thoughtful discussion. In a whimsical touch, Booke Club was the name chosen. …

I think the old-fashioned quality of dignity also describes these women, and explains the almost complete absence of squabbles. Unsurprisingly, all members believe that the strong love of literature, willingness to listen and share, and disciplined commitment has kept us going. …

By Jill Lawson, Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society.

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