LitClub:  Pageturners
Phoenix, Arizona

club pageturners-w1club pageturners-long

THEY'VE BEEN TURNING PAGES for 21 years—140 books' worth of pages! Along the way, they've found time to connect with authors, hold terrific discussions and build lasting friendships.

How many pages do you think you turned over the years?

Well, we've read 140 books—at, say, an average of 350 pages per book—so that's 49,000 pages! (Actually, you only have to turn 1/2 that number...right?)

Uh, right, sure...(?) So tell us how you got started.
We started in a community and neighbor bookstore, called Pages, owned by one of our members. That was in 1993.

Most of us met through the book store. Only a few of us knew each other beforehand, but we were drawn together out of a common interest—our love of books and a good story.

Sadly, the book store has since closed, but Pageturners continues to thrive.

That's been 21 years. Any of the original members still around?
About 8 are still with us. The full group has ranged anywhere from 10-18 women—of all ages and with many different viewpoints. That's what makes our group is so rich.

Tell us about your books.
Some of our favorites this past year have been The Orphan Train, Ordinary Grace, and The Light Between Oceans.

What about all-time favorites?
Our first book was A Town Like Alice, and we loved it. Our other favorite is Crossing to Safety—we read it twice. We also loved Snow Falling on Cedars and Ahab's Wife.

Actually, we've read too many good ones to list them all.

Any disappointments?
The Beans of Egypt, Maine was one of the books we all disliked. (Such despicable characters!) The funny thing was we disliked it so much we couldn't stop talking about it! For years it seemed to come up at every discussion. In fact, we turned it into an initiation rite—whenever a new member joined, we made her read it.

So, yes, we've had a lot of lemons over the years...but often the discussion was as good as the book was bad. You've heard the saying, "Hate the book, love the group."

Speaking of discussions...what other books led to particularly good ones?
We like books that deal with real issues—historical and personal—with universal themes that everyone can relate to. Here are some titles that generated our best discussions: No Ordinary Time  ♦  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan  ♦  Small Island  ♦  Boys Life  ♦  Elegance of the Hedgehog  ♦  Isaac's Storm  ♦  The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Tell us about your "icebreakers."
As people arrive, we take about 30 minutes for snacks and drinks. Then we generally start the discussion with an "ice-breaker"—a question about our lives, usually unrelated to the book. After a summer break, for example, we might ask about the best thing each of us did over the summer. This ensures everyone a chance to talk about what's important to her or to the entire group.

And you rate each book?
Yes. At the beginning of the actual book discussion, we go around the room with each person assigning the book a number (on a scale of 1-10) and a single word. We try not to discuss our rankings until later. This allows everyone a chance to participate at the very beginning and gives us a general feel for how well the book was liked. Later, we can defend our number or explain our word.

You've also talked with a number of authors.
We've had many author phone interviews during our discussions. We've talked with Chris Bohjalian (Before You Know Kindness, Buffalo Soldier, and Midwives), John Shor (Beneath the Marble Sky), J.R. Moehringer (The Tender Bar), Jean Mayhew (Dry Grass of August), Stephanie Kallos (Broken for You), and Judith Guest (The Tarnished Eye).

And you've met with some authors in person.
We've invited Jewell Parker Rhodes, (Douglass' Women) and Susan Pohlman (Halfway to Each Other) to our meetings.

What about special book-related activities?
Often we'll have a potluck with foods based on a book's theme. We had Greek food the night we discussed Corelli's Mandolin...and an elegant tea party when we read Pride and Prejudice.

One night we had a "chip off" because two members insisted their home town potato chips were the best (made only in Illinois and Indiana). Members were blindfolded and tasted both...believe it or not, the taste test led to a tied.

And you have a special Christmas meeting.
Yes, we have a paperback exchange. Each person brings a book wrapped in plain paper—it must be a book the member loved. Then we do a "white elephant" when people can steal a book that's already been opened by someone else. At the end of the evening, each member talks about the book she brought and why she loved it.

We also do a Christmas craft and have a year-end quiz. One member, who works at a bookstore, takes a quote from each of the books we've read, and we try to identify the book it came from. It's always fun!

Any activities you do together outside of regular meetings?
Oh, yes. We often have a movie night together. And several of the members have "summer" homes to get out of the Phoenix heat. We've had sleepovers on Coronado Island in Southern California (see photo), as well as in Flagstaff and Cavecreek, both in Arizona.

One evening we had an in-town sleepover at a member's home where we all brought "ugly" bridesmaids dresses we had once worn—or even our wedding dress if we still had them. The idea came from one of our books (can't remember which). The dresses looked lovely from the front view but when we took a back view shot, few zippers were closed (see photos)!

And you use Facetime to keep in touch with previous members.

We have a few members who have moved away, but now with technology we often include them with Facetime on of our regular members lives in Des Moines and she surprised the book group with a "live" visit one night!

What would you like us to take away knowing about you?
We laugh a lot.

Also, we often find fault with a book or author—but we never find fault with other members for their views. Our group is open-minded and respectful of each other's opinions. You cannot talk about difficult situations or characters encountered in books without revealing who you are. So there must be a high level of trust, which leads to honesty and openness. That in turn makes for a rich discussion.

Through the years we have become a family of sorts, attending weddings, births, and other celebrations of our members. We are there for each other and I think anyone of us could give the other a 3 A.M. call and know help would be on the way.

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