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Book Club

05/12/08 5:55PM By Bill Mares
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(HOST) Commentator Bill Mares is an author - as well as retired teacher and legislator - who for many years, has belonged to a lively - if slightly eccentric - Book Club.

(MARES) The historian Arthur Schlesinger once defined an intellectual as a person "at home with ideas."

That's a fair country definition of the members of our Big Boys Book Club, a men's reading group now beginning its third decade.  

Our members have included doctors, lawyers, academics, engineers, and odd-balls like me, brought together by a shared intellectual curiosity and a love of learning.

Vince Feeney, one of our members, say that this setting encourages us to tackle books we might not  read otherwise.  Once a month we gather at a member's house from 7:30 to nine o'clock on a Sunday evening.  Fueled by de-caf and cookies, we chew over recent fiction, non-fiction, best-sellers and also-rans. 

A selection of books from the past year includes: A Short History of Practically Everything by Bill Bryson, The Double Bind, by Chris Bohjalian, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan, Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama, and A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah.

After a few minutes' chit-chat, we are off and talking.   These collective ruminations are both relaxed and intense.  No one has to talk.  No one has to have the last word. No one "leads" the discussion.  We find our own line of inquiry and distain the guided questions which have become common in the Oprah Book Club era.  The only rule is that you can't trash the book for the first 15 minutes of discussion.  After that, the pages can become a free-fire zone.

Like barn swallows, members swoop in and out of the discussion, depending upon their whims or the strength of their views. The evening becomes a kind of intellectual quilting bee where different minds add strong or muted swatches to the overall pattern.

Generally, we stay on target, but sometimes we veer off track to discuss vacations, politics or families.  A few prospective members have found us a bit too eclectic, or not rigorous enough. 

Naturally, I feel better if I've read the scheduled book, but sometimes I can't. Yet, I go anyway, bulking up on reviews, the cover blurbs and the preface, happy to listen to sharp minds at play.  We've come to trust the other Big Boys to choose good books and have honest forthright opinions.

The evening's host gets to "choose" the new book.  After we've exhausted the current volume, like a casino black-jack dealer he passes around five or six books and gives a few seconds' description for each.  From the ensuing short discussion of both topic and book, a consensus emerges.     

Thanks to Bob Rinkema, a retired computer network consultant, we live in cyberspace with our own web site.  And a Big Boys Athletic Club has entered relay teams  in Vermont City Marathons.  Our slogan says it all, "Slow but Literate."
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