Northwest NEWS

December 10, 2001

Features

Discussion group doesn't judge a book by its cover

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Reporter
   The world is quiet on a rain-soaked Saturday morning, with the possible exception at the Woodinville Library. Inside the conference room, nine women relax around a table covered in books, notebooks and red paper cups brandishing the Starbuck's logo.
   Their lively discussion bubbles with comments, insights, opinions and personal experiences: "Her whole style of writing is very descriptive," says one. "She wants to tell a good story," another adds. "I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I'm surprised it doesn't have more poignant comments," a third interjects.
   The women are participating in their monthly meeting of the Kingsgate/Woodinville Library Discussion Group.
   On this gray Seattle-like day, they're discussing Ruth Reichl's autobiography, "Tender at the Bone," and its sequel "Comfort Me With Apples."
   They discuss the author's style, content and what did or didn't appeal to them. They talk about the book's humor and what the author is trying to say. Their discussion is interspersed with plenty of laughter.
   After the two-hour meeting adjourns, four members stay behind to talk about the history and purpose of their discussion group. The four include: Sande Edson, Kingsgate Library employee, Tony Cooke, Friends of the Kingsgate Library President, Deborah Bagg, Assistant Managing Librarian at Woodinville and group member Kerri Scarborough.
   They explain that the book discussion group began in 1995 at the Kingsgate Library and was Edson's idea.
   Initially, the group had six or seven members. "Of those, there are three of us still here," Edson says. Cooke is one of the three members still with the group and says that in 1999 she asked Assistant Manager Bagg if the Woodinville Library would like to join in. "I'm for anything that promotes reading," remarks Bagg, "and I said, 'Yes.'"
   After the merger, the group began meeting at alternate libraries, one month at Kingsgate and the other at Woodinville. Over time, the group's number gradually increased. Says Bagg, "On an average month we get a dozen people."
   Bagg explains how the group operates. Every member takes a turn in choosing a book for the group to read. A reading list of six books is compiled ahead of time. In this way, the group knows the book they'll be reading each month for the next six months. The members also agree to lead the session and bring treats on the day their book is discussed.
   Today's meeting zeroed in on the memoirs of Gourmet magazine publisher, Ruth Reichl. The two books, chosen by Bagg, are about Reichl's's experiences with food and how cooking became her method of survival. The author sprinkles recipes throughout her books. The devil's food cake recipe on page 75 inspired Bagg to whip up the chocolate cake delight and take it to the group as her treat. "It was good," the group reports in unison.
   Another member contributed brownies from page 244. And Cooke brought in deviled eggs, also from the book. Orange juice, coffee, muffins and sweet breads added a welcome dimension.
   The food brought to the meeting doesn't necessarily accompany the book's theme. Bagg says that it depends on the book.
   As an example, after reading "The Ginger Tree," items flavored with ginger, such as ginger snap cookies and ginger candy, were the treats for the day.
   One month the group read "Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women," a book they all enjoyed and had been Edson's choice.
   On the day of the meeting, Edson brought Middle Eastern food in. Another member, who had lived in Saudi Arabia, displayed Middle Eastern clothing for an added highlight.
   Bagg mentions that the group doesn't adhere to a strict format. "It's no-holds barred," she says, mentioning there was just one restriction in the beginning.
   At that time the book market was glutted with O.J. books, and the group had jokingly agreed to never read or discuss O.J.
   But any further restrictions might have been hard for the group of voracious readers to abide by. The women say they like the challenge of reading something they might not have picked up otherwise.
   "It's a real stretching experience," Scarborough says.
   None can think of a book that they read as a group and hated, although a couple of members weren't keen on "Catch 22."
   But Scarborough points out, "It's okay to hate the book." She also says the people who choose a book for the group to read may have not read it themselves.
   Adding to that, Bagg says, "There's a saying in my field, 'never apologize for your reading tastes.'"
   The group mutually agreed they enjoyed last month's selection, "Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader."
   The four women say their time together has helped them get to know each other better. Book themes often prompt members to relate personal stories from their own lives.
   But it's the love of reading that binds the group together. Coming from different backgrounds and ages, the group has even had the occasional male over the years. "Altogether we've had four men," notes Cooke.
   They also like to focus on other aspects besides a book's style and content. "We speculate," says Bagg. "If the book becomes a movie, which actor will take part?"
   The women laugh thinking back to a past book character they had cast as Paul Newman.
   Scarborough says that in February, the group will read her pick, "Polar Dream," written by Helen Thayer, a Woodinville resident who walked alone to the North Pole when she was 50 years old. Next month, the group dives into "The Bee Season."
   "We welcome anyone who wants to participate," says Bagg, adding that the discussion group normally meets the last Saturday of every month.
   For further information on the Book Discussion Group, contact the Woodinville Library at (425) 788-0733.