LitClub:  Ladies of the River
Exeter, California

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THESE REMARKABLE women are as devoted to charitable giving as they are to reading and talking about books. Meet Ladies of the River from Exeter, California.

From your name, I take it you all live on a river. Which one?
Actually, we live on three different rivers—the Kaweah, the Tule, and St. John's. They pass through three separate towns, all in central California.

You've been around for a few years. How many members?
We started in 2013, and today there are nine of us.

Tell us about the cool looking bracelets in the top photo?
They're handmade beads from Uganda. One of our members sent money to Bead for Life, which helps Ugandan women support themselves.

Her donation is part of a group tradition.
Right. In honor of every member's birthday, we choose a cause to donate money to instead of buying gifts.

One member actually gave everyone in the book club a beautiful tapestry coin purse containing $50—so we could each donate money to an organization of our choice. (see photo of Carol in white camisole holding her up her purse).

Carol donated her $50 to Bead for Life; Diane sent hers to  HeroRATs—rats trained to sniff out landmines.

You also donate as a group, right?
Yes. Our books inspire us...

After reading The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, we sent money to Bpeace in support of women's jobs in Afghanistan.

We also sent money to the ALS Association after reading Until I Say Goodbye...

We donated to an educational scholarship fund after Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan.

Ah, yes...which brings up the subject of books. What have you read lately?
Here's our list from the past  year:

A Path Appears
Epitaph for a Peach
H is for Hawk
Out Stealing Horses
Tuscan Rose
Glass Castle
Children Act
Double Luck: Memoirs of a
  Chinese Orphan

Class of '65

Any favorites over the years?
We loved A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn (husband and wife). It taught us so much about people and organizations working to make the world a better place. It also explained what we could do to help.

Another favorite is Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Not only was it a page turner, but we also learned about a period of history many of us were unfamiliar with.

We loved The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown—a wonderful story of an underdog rowing team that made it to the Olympics!

Finally, The Children Act by Ian McEwan: it was a quick read and lead to a great discussion about right and wrong and the shades of gray in between.

Yes, H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald got excellent reviews, and the author is obviously a talented writer with scholarly credentials. But we felt that the inclusion of the parallel biography of T. H. White distracted from the flow of the book. We had hoped that Helen would write more about her father and less about White.

Also, Outlander by Dianna Gabaldon disturbed one member in particular. She felt it made rape sexy.

What about particularly good discussions?
We have excellent discussions almost every time we meet! A Path Appears was especially rich: we each read a couple of chapters and then shared what we learned. It took two book meetings to finish our discussion.

Class of '65: A Student, a Divided Town, and the Long Road to Forgiveness by Jim Auchmutey—about racism, bullying, and forgiveness—profoundly affected us. We skyped with the author and the protagonist, Jim Whittkamper.

The Children Act was especially fascinating. With our discussion leader Diane dressed as High Court Judge Fiona Maye (see 2nd photo from bottom), we debated whether her judicial decision was the right one.

Where do you hold meetings?
We meet at the Cappella Coffee House in Exeter, Calif.

Any rules?
Only one—we try to limit the size of our books to around 300-400 pages. We've read a few 800-900- paged books before, but our busy lives make finding the time required difficult.

You take your discussion sessions quite seriously.
We do. We want them to be stimulating and thought provoking. So....each leader prepares thoroughly. She begins by telling us why she chose the book; then she shares information about the author and might even show a video clip. Finally, we turn to the discussion points/questions. H is for Hawk is a good example: we watched a short clip of an interview with author Helen Macdonald and a second clip showing a Goshawk in flight.

Finally, what impression would you like to leave with us?
Our group feels like more than just a book club. While reading and discussing books, we open up to one another. A supportive bond has been built, one of love and respect. Recently, we discussed The Glass Castle, and there were some tears. Michelle led with a PowerPoint presentation, which kept us focused.

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