I felt honored recently to attend the 50th-anniversary celebration of The Gourmet Book Club at the home of Joan Moffatt, one of its original members, in Minneapolis.
It all began with a well-deserved champagne toast to five decades of reading 400 books, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, mourning deaths and losses and honoring lifelong friendships.
The group, now 14 members, meets monthly. Members range in age from their 50s to 90. They come from all over the Twin Cities — from Hopkins to St. Paul, Inver Grove Heights to St. Louis Park.
Over the years, the format has remained the same: They gather at the home of one of the members, chat for a bit, eat a delicious desert (hence the name The Gourmet Book Club) and then begin discussion of the book of the month.
The leader for the evening gives some background about the author and then steers the discussion with questions about the book’s plot, its characters, strengths and weaknesses. The book banter is usually enlightening and entertaining.
“Amazingly, almost everyone reads the books,” Moffatt said. “And each of us has strong opinions and willingly shares them. The discussions are not dull. And one of the reasons is that we read books we probably would not have otherwise read.”
Taking leadership roles
Seeing that the discussions stay lively is partly up to the evening’s leader, a role the women take seriously.
Bea Kleiner said when she’s the leader, she reads the book three times.
“I always feel a little pressure,” she said. “I want to be prepared and keep the discussion on point.”
I’ll admit I felt a little pressure at their celebration, being a literary piker compared to the group and the only man in the room — the way it’s been for 50 years. It’s not that they actively exclude men; it’s just that the group was formed around the needs of women.
During the earlier days, many of the members had recently left the work force to become stay-at-home moms, Moffatt said.
“Our concern was our minds would turn to mush being at home all day,” Moffatt said. “And we wanted to have the mental stimulation of reading and discussing good books.”
They often brought their children, who played or slept as they discussed the book of the month.
Those books of the month have included novels, biographies, plays and works by local fiction writers. The women’s first book was The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand; they’ve read biographies of FDR, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Katharine Graham.
One book they all remember fondly is Giants of the Earth by Ole Edvart Rolvaag, a novel that follows a Norwegian immigrant’s struggles with the country and climate of the Dakota Territory.
Friendships old and new
While the books have been memorable, the club’s friendships are enduring.
Corrine Durkin, who moved back to the Twin Cities a few years ago from Rhinelander, Wis., believes club members handle different opinions with grace.
“We are civil,” she said, “And I believe we really love each other.”
That’s demonstrated by one Carol Huttner, a retired nursing supervisor and the newest member of the club, who picks up Faye Miller of Inver Grove Heights, who is 90 years old and one of the original members of The Gourmet Book Club.
She was no longer able to drive and couldn’t get to meetings.
“It’s good to be back with my old friends,” Miller said, “and with my new friend.”
Book clubs like this one play a valuable role among older adults because of their powerful impact on members’ overall well-being.
The Hennepin County library system, in fact, is launching book clubs for seniors in retirement communities, senior centers and libraries — with nine established to far, according to a December 2017 story in the Star Tribune. (Learn more by calling 612-543-5669.)
After spending a couple of hours with The Gourmet Book Club, I think I’d feel comfortable at one of their regular monthly meetings.
But I’d want to make sure I wasn’t making dessert — and I’d be darn sure that I’d read the book.
Dave Nimmer has had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. Send comments or questions to email@example.com.