Read A Good Book Lately

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CoverMegastar Oprah brought new popularity to book clubs when she began one on her TV talk show in 1996. Her book choices quickly brought fame to their authors and surging book sales in the country.

But book clubs were already thriving in the Detroit area in 1996, including some that had been active for decades in the Jewish community. Local book club members enjoy diverse literary genres, from contemporary fiction and nonfiction to classics and Jewish-themed books. While women-only groups predominate, some attract both genders — and a male group meets at the Bloomfield Township Public Library.

One of the longest-running Metro Detroit Jewish book clubs began in 1969 among a few Somerset Apartments residents in Troy. Barbara Rubenstein of Huntington Woods and Debbie Tucker of West Bloomfield were the founders, soon followed by Barbara Charlip of West Bloomfield.

“I was home more at the time and wanted to do something stimulating,” said Tucker, a psychoanalyst. “I had always loved reading and had friends who shared books. It’s an impetus to keep reading, to hear about new books. The women are well-educated, well-traveled; they read a lot.”

Janice Salter, a teacher from Farmington Hills, was an early member. “We have chosen books that I normally wouldn’t have chosen myself, and they are great choices, and I enjoy catching up with the girls,” she said.

Dana Patchak, a West Bloomfield real estate agent, co-founded a book group 16 years ago because she was “on a treadmill of work and kids and work and kids and wanted to shake it up and do something with women.” Initial members were mostly related — sisters and sisters-in-law — but other friends joined soon after.

“I joined a book club because my mother was in a book club for more than 50 years,” said Robin K. Siman, a dentist who lives in Bloomfield Hills. “Six of these friends came to her 90th birthday party.” Her late mother, Rhea Klein, and several of her friends continued to read and share audio books late in life.

Siman said her group began about 19 years ago and has “bonded together to have a beautiful friendship.” Their group sponsors an author at the JCC Jewish Book Fair.

Book groups typically meet monthly and usually include snacks or a casual lunch, although one club meets during a gourmet luncheon hosted by alternating members.

Another local book group was started by members of the Eleanor Roosevelt Hadassah chapter. While Hadassah membership is required and books often have a Jewish theme or author, the group meets at members’ homes and is self-run.

“We read mostly contemporary fiction that is available from the library and meet over lunch at someone’s home,” said Meredith Band of Huntington Woods.

High-Tech Enhancements

Technology has expanded the reach of book groups as some members who are out-of-town on meeting dates and others who have moved out of the area can participate via computer, using Skype software. For example, Bookworms, a book club that grew from a group of friends at Congregation B’nai Moshe in West Bloomfield, uses Skype to include member Andie Simons, who moved to Seoul, South Korea, for several years for her husband’s job. In addition, authors’ websites and online video interviews bring a new dimension to group discussions.

Group coordinators can communicate meeting logistics easily through email or texts, and some groups have started their own websites. Meanwhile, Kindles, Nooks and tablet applications enable readers to download many books at a lower cost than purchasing an actual volume.

Facilitator Expertise

Many private book clubs and most of those affiliated with Jewish organizations have paid facilitators who help choose books, provide background information about the selected books and authors, and lead discussions. Fees for some popular facilitators range from $125 to $175 per meeting. The Somerset book group has an annual fee of $80 per year per member to pay their facilitator. Book groups typically collect “dues” once or twice a year.

The Somerset group led their own discussions for many years, but some felt they weren’t getting as much out of it as they could. Salter suggested professional facilitator Adele Robins, who works with 30 book clubs. Members quickly agreed that she added a lot to the discussion.

“She was a good fit and organized us,” Salter said.

Marcia Baum, a retired health care administrator from Detroit, compliments Robins for “her command of language, literature and history. She doesn’t control the conversation. She’ll make a statement and then someone will light up.”

Tara Hayes, Ph.D., leads a number of book groups in the Jewish community after getting her start with Siman’s group about four years ago. Like most facilitators, Hayes suggests books for discussion, which group members typically vote on once or twice a year. Librarians at the Jewish Community Center and local congregations frequently recommend books and choose facilitators for the groups they host. Book ideas come from the JCC Jewish Book Fair, the Indie Booksellers list, readers’ recommendations and online lists.

Temple Israel recently began a nonfiction book group facilitated by member Jacqueline Fox of Farmington Hills, an attorney with a library science degree. She said the group has attracted “all ages and men and women equally who read books with Jewish content or by a Jewish author or both.”

A recent meeting was led by Alicia Oltuski, author of Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family and a Way of Life, who was in town for another talk and learned of the Temple Israel book group through a published announcement.

Marilyn Gans Schelberg, Ph.D., leads book discussions at the JCC, Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township and for other Jewish groups. A retired neuropsychologist, Schelberg tries to create a “sense of camaraderie and a sacred space where people are comfortable with each other. I help with the group dynamics, encouraging the timid and making sure no one monopolizes the discussion.

“I bring in Jewish values and sometimes Torah insights,” she said. “Most people want to learn a little bit and have fun.” ■

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