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Summer Edition
Volume 100, Number 1


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Book clubs expand readers’ perspectives and enrich lives

Reading communally forms strong bonds within the Grantham Church women’s book club

Karin (Snyder) Bisbee ’98 recalls that the months following graduation from Messiah College felt as though they were lacking. As an English major, Bisbee had devoted her undergraduate years to reading and studying a variety of books; once outside the scholarly setting, she missed interacting with fellow readers. So, in 2002, she joined the Grantham Church women’s book club, an association of women who meet monthly to explore diverse literature. The challenging environment was exactly what Bisbee needed. “I had missed the communal experience of reading,” she says. “Joining this group was refreshing. I had missed the discussion and the exposure to different perspectives.”

As Bisbee discovered, involvement in book clubs and reading groups allows bibliophiles of all types to experience literature through others’ eyes. Sharing the process of common reading with fellow booklovers — discussing topics like a book’s theme, its characters’ actions and the author’s motivations for writing — expands literature’s impact. For this reason, the members of the Grantham Church book club enjoy their group’s diverse composition, Bisbee explains. “We are a mix of church members, community members, and Messiah College faculty,” she says. “Some read as a hobby, some have studied extensively throughout their careers, some work with literature on a daily basis, and we all enjoy sharing the experience.”

The Grantham Church women’s book club recommends:

Three Cups of Tea by Gregg Mortenson

“This book highlights the extraordinary powers of the human spirit to overcome great odds.”

—Shirley Groff

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy by Carlos Eire

Saving Fish from Drowning by Amy Tan

“Set in Myanmar recently hit by the devastating cyclone,

Tan’s most recent novel is important from a current affairs point of view.”

— Shirley Groff

The No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith

Left to Tell by Imaculée Ilibagiza

The group’s assorted make-up lends itself to lively and insightful discussions, always peppered with varying takes on the book of the month. “What I love most about the group is sharing,” explains Bisbee. “The experience of reading is largely private, but coming together and hearing how other people perceived certain passages enhances the experience.” Shirley Groff ’74, the group’s facilitator, confirms that “the discussions are always wide-ranging and interesting. Each person notices something different in a book so that, together, the conversation is enriched. Because we all have such different life experiences . . . reading together is like looking at a piece of art from many directions.”

Shirley Groff

Shirley Groff '74, the facilitator for the
Grantham Church women's book club

 

Not only does participating in the book club enhance Bisbee’s perspective, but it also inspires her to expand her literary repertoire. Like many reading groups, the Grantham Church’s organization operates without a structured curriculum, so reading choices are based on impromptu suggestions from the club’s members. On a few occasions, Bisbee recalls laughing, diving into the month’s chosen novel has required more than a little persistence. But challenging herself to read books that would not normally top her list of favorites keeps Bisbee —and others —coming back. Group member Joann Henry ’04 agrees that reading unfamiliar literature makes the experience worthwhile. She says, “One of the most enjoyable aspects of belonging to the book club is being challenged to read books I may not choose.”

Groff  has seen this persistence to read pay off. “One of our participants told me that sometimes she does not like a selected book until she has read it and participated in the book club’s discussion,” Groff explains. “Like her, readers gain an appreciation for the quality and artistry of each book that they did not have before.”

For these readers, developing appreciation for many types of literature means developing appreciation for many types of people. Groff explains that the group’s preferences naturally lean toward “books, both fiction and nonfiction, set in different countries because they broaden our views of the cultures of the world.” Both outwardly and inwardly, Groff says, the connections formed through reading together foster strong bonds. The most rewarding aspect, she says, is that “as we discuss and read together, we learn about each other’s lives.”

—Anne-Marie Robinson ’08

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