Twenty Five Years of Discussing Books – by Margot Sullivan

Margot Sullivan is a part-time reader’s advisory and reference librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin this week or listen to the podcast on SoundCloud. Podcasts are archived on the Voices from the Library page of the library website.

When I came on board the Morrill Memorial Library as a fulltime staff member the first thing I wanted to do was to start a book discussion group! Little did I know that twenty five years later the “discussing” and pondering of books with much laughter thrown in would still be as rewarding and enjoyable as those first tentative years. I think we started off with 8-10 “regulars” and now we often have 20-25 people attending in the morning and 10-15 in the evening. The participants in the First Thursday Book Discussion Group have shared travel experiences, childhood memories, illnesses, joys, and sorrows and, of course, books that really made an impression. I always remember my Simmons College library course “the Library as a Social Institution” and the book group is as much a social entity with wonderful friendships and acquaintances as a discussion group. As I reminisce I see faces of those who have died or moved away, I see smiles and sometimes quizzical looks and sometimes even frowns when a book is particularly not to our liking.

I choose the titles without reading them first which occasionally gets me in trouble. Sometimes we concurred that the writing was beautiful but the characters were not very likeable or redeeming or the plot was bizarre. We would occasionally wonder why a book got a particular award. That was certainly the case with the book “Martin Dressler-Tale of an American Dreamer” by Steven Millhauser which won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. We thought there should have been some better possibilities than this! The Booker Prize in England is often awarded to a novel we were reading. They might have asked us what we thought!!!!!

There were some books that were just poor choices at least we mostly thought so. “The House of the Seven Gables” by Nathanial Hawthorne was tedious. “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift just did not make for a good discussion – maybe we all had too much of it in high school. Conrad’s “Secret Agent” was also difficult to wade through and not very successful for discussion. Sometimes we would agree that a book was good but didn’t have a whole lot of discussable points. Occasionally we would try to decide which current movie stars would be good actors and actresses for the characters. We laugh a lot!!!!!!!!

The books I remember over these many years are Helene Hanff’s “84 Charing Cross Road” short but poignant. We all liked “A Lesson before Dying “by Ernest Gaines. It is amazing how well “Grapes of Wrath” by Steinbeck stays relevant and who can forget Henry Fonda in that movie! Everyone groaned when I assigned “Ethan Frome” by Edith Wharton – “we all read that in high school” they chorused! We had such a lively and thoughtful discussion and agreed that maybe it is good to read these classics many years later. I myself enjoyed Thomas Hardy’s “Mayor of Casterbridge” and more recently “Tortilla Curtain” by T.C. Boyle and “Corelli’s Mandolin” by Louis de Bernieres. Henry Foley’s favorite book of all time was “Cold Sassy Tree” by Olive Ann Burns.

In the works is a complete list of all the titles the First Thursday Book Discussion Group has read. We miss Ellen Hoffman who had been with the group since the beginning and lucky for me she kept a complete list of all the titles. Join us! We meet at 10AM and 7:30PM the first Thursday from October to May but skipping January when we offer a fun book review session called Fireside Reads. Call the library at 781-769-0200 x110 and ask for Margot Sullivan or stop in at the Reference Desk. I hope I have given you a flavor of this educational, informative, and fun twenty five year Morrill Memorial Library “social institution”.

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