Everyone's a critic when book clubs meet

March 16, 1997


Staff Writer

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - As book critics go, the eight women at the Alexander Hamilton Memorial Library are tough.

The end of "The English Patient" was unsatisfying, says retired librarian Jean Hastings.

"You wanted another chapter," adds Marty Macfarland.

When one member calls the beginning of the book confusing, comments of agreement begin to fly around the room.

"I'm glad to hear you say it was disjointed," says Kathryn Oller, a retired Drexel University professor with a doctorate in library science and English literature.

Books are a passion for this group, affiliated with the Waynesboro College Club.

At reading groups around the Tri-State area, book enthusiasts get together and share ideas over coffee and cookies.

Books are hot. After Oprah Winfrey began using her talk show to promote new books, sales for the featured works skyrocketed. Some radio programs, especially on public radio stations, feature book discussions.


Maureen Ferguson, 50, started a book club in Hagerstown eight years ago as part of Newcomer's Unlimited.

"I find it just such a sharing experience," she said. "You think you're getting one message but it's incredible the message someone else gets."

Ferguson joined her first book club in York, Pa., when she quit her job as a special education teacher to raise her children.

"When I had small children, that was my one night out a month," she said.

The Newcomer's book group last read Hillary Rodham Clinton's "It Takes a Village," which sparked great discussion even though many in the group weren't fans of the first lady.

The women began talking about hopes and fears for their own families, she said.

"Someone from every generation is able to give you insight," Ferguson said.

Mary Ann Prozinski enjoys the exchange of ideas. "People you think you know really well have a totally different opinion,'' she said. "No one is correct."

The group tries to choose classics or just-released bestsellers.

"It stretches your mind to read books you might not necessarily pick up," Ferguson said.

The Waynesboro group, founded in 1966, is one of the oldest groups in the Tri-State area.

Members arrive as prepared for the discussion as they would be for a college course.

Photocopies of book criticisms, background about the author and notes are spread out on the table. Some scan the Internet for background.

Some book groups pay a professional English teacher to lead the discussions.

"They want the equivalent of a college course," said Pam Gardner of Chevy Chase, Md., who also advises more traditional book clubs.

Women, more than men, tend to enjoy book clubs, she said.

"Women are much more comfortable than men in a group situation where they are learning something," she said.

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