THE Timmins Book Club
Timmins, Ontario, Canada

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WE'RE TRULY HONORED to feature what may be the longest running book club in Canada ... possibly on the entire continent! Started in 1938, this Canadian group is 75 and still going strong! Anyone top that?

Tell us how the club began.
We suspect it had to do with the isolation of a northern mining camp. Throw in the long, harsh winters (which we still have!), and the women would have been eager to find others who shared similar interests.

An opportunity for friendship.
Yes, but the club would have been a cultural outlet, too, especially because books wouldn't have been readily available. So sharing them would have been very appealing.

What about members—then and now.
In prior years, there were as many as 15-20. Today, we have 10 members, all retired nurses and educators.

Any bloodlines remain?
Yes! The November 3, 1942, minutes welcome a new member to the group—and her daughter is one of our members today!

Understandably, the passage of time means that we have lost members to illness and death, and others have moved away. One of our members travels 150 kms (95 miles) to attend meetings whenever possible, and another recently moved even further away; fortunately, the internet allows us to maintain contact.

Let's talk about the notebooks. What a treasure trove!
They are! They're minutes of the meetings—all the way back to the beginning. At each of our meetings, we have a "historical reading" from the archives to show how we've evolved.  And things were quite different back then:

Debates were popular. March 20, 1939, the debate topic was “Be it resolved that drama is a greater agent for arousing emotions than the novel.”

Guest speakers were frequent, and topics were not just of a literary nature: home decorating, the Girl Guide movement, music appreciation, humour, and Canadian art.

Plays were common. Members divided into two groups: each group was assigned a different half of a single play. After rehearsals (outside of meetings), each group performed its half for the other. Line memorization was not required, but costumes were de rigueur. Hilarity inevitably ensued—even if the play was a tragedy.

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Tell us about the photo directly above?
It's a little hard to decipher, but it reads, "Programme Season 1938-39," most likely the group's first full year. What's fascinating is the range of topics they covered: from Czecho-Slovakia and nursing to theatre in the middle ages and literature .

Well, let's talk about YOUR range. What books has the current group been reading?
Here are the most recent: The Sense of an EndingThe Cat’s TableThe Night CircusCanada • The Winter PalaceThe Testament of MaryThe Casual VacancyThe Orenda (by Joseph Boydan: set in the 1600s with the Hurons and Iroquois and the arrival of the Jesuits).

Any all-time favorites?
Annabel (by Kathleen Winter): A hermaphrodite born in a Labrador village in the 1960s and his/her struggle for identity. The book provides fully developed characters and an excellent sense of place. The interesting subject matter inspired a wide-ranging discussion which led to members suggesting other books such as John Colapinto’s As Nature Made Him and Chaz Bono’s autobiography, Transition:  The Story of How I Became a Man.

Room: A favourite because of the voice of the child narrator and because of the book’s themes about the strength of the mother-child bond and the resilience of the human spirit.

Suite Francaise: Both the author’s wit and the emotional scope of the novel made it a group favourite.

Three-Day Road (by Joseph Boyden): The experiences of two Cree men who become snipers in WWI...and the sad decline of Cree culture. Members could identify with the Northern Ontario setting, but it was the novel’s characterization and the viewpoint of native Canadians which won it praise from the group.

Atonement: The depth of the character development and the novel’s examination of the effects of  seemingly inconsequential actions resonated with our group.|

Being Canadian, we read a lot of Canadian authors.  Besides those already mentioned, other favourites include Rohinton Mistry, Alistair MacLeod, Mary Lawson, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Elizabeth Hay, Ann-Marie MacDonald, David Adams Richards, Donna Morrissey, Michael Crummey, Lori Lansens, Jane Urquhart, and Wayne Johnston.

How about best discussions?
Our best discussions occur when members disagree about the quality of a book: no one's shy about expressing opinions. Such was the case with The Sisters Brothers which details the adventures of two murderers for hire during the California Gold Rush.  Though it won several prestigious awards and was praised by some members, others did not appreciate its dark humour.

Wolf Hall was another contentious book. Some members were totally engaged with the tome and others found it so tedious they were unable to finish it.

The Paris Wife won sympathy from some and derision from others.

How do you choose your books?
Based on member suggestions, we choose books two months in advance. Two months works well; it allows enough time for reading and sufficient flexibility to choose new books that catch our interest. (Which is why it's also LitLovers preferred method! —Ed.)

Members recommend books based on their own reading, book reviews, or winners of awards like the Man Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Governor-General’s Awards. 

In the course of a year, we may have one or two meetings that focus on a specific genre or theme. This has proven to be a great way to be introduced to writers we may not have encountered.

  • Genre: Our mystery nights are very popular. Members read their mystery of choice and briefly describe it and its merits. We may also devote a meeting to the classics or biographies.

  • Theme: Sometimes we focus on books surrounding a specific topic, e.g., women in history or the environment.

Like your forbears, you read books...and then some.
Yes. Over the years, we’ve attended book readings and then hosted the authors. We've had guest speakers, and poetry nights when members chose a favourite poem to read. We've had film nights (for novel-based films) and travel nights when a member shares photos of a trip to an exotic or remote location. (We all love to travel!)

Finally, how would you describe your club?
We believe we are one of the oldest book clubs in Canada. Meticulous records have been kept and passed down so we have proof of our longevity. In 2009, we were featured in an article in The Globe and Mail, a national Canadian newspaper.

We are all avid readers who enjoy discussing what we’ve read and being introduced to new books. (Members freely share their personal book collections and such exchanges have contributed to the success of the club.) As mentioned previously, all members have travelled quite extensively, and several members also share an artistic bent (e.g. knitting, painting, weaving, scrapbooking).

Oh, one absolute final thing: why is the article "THE" of your club name in all caps?
It's because we were the first book club in Timmins...which makes us THE Timmins Book Club.

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