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Reading is an experience that some choose to share

January 18, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

katec@herald-mail.com

Reading a book is something you can do almost anywhere, almost anytime. You can read a book on a park bench, in a doctor's office waiting room, in bed, curled up in your favorite chair by the fireside.

You can gain practical information from books. You can read to experience distant lands, fantasy worlds or romance. A book can make you laugh or cry.

Reading is something you can do by yourself, or you can join a club. Book clubs come in different shapes and sizes, but the common something is the sharing of thoughts and ideas - and the sharing of books.

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Jonna Mendez has been a member of The Frog Eye Society Ladies Book Club for four or five years.

"It had always been my dream to be in a book club," she says.

She became involved when a neighbor knocked on her door and asked her to join. The club name came about because all the members - about seven or eight - have some connection to Frog Eye Road in southern Washington County's Pleasant Valley.

Club members have different backgrounds, and the club reads "all kinds of books," Mendez says. There's an antique dealer and a member who directs pharmaceutical clinical trials. Mendez, a photographer and author, is retired from 27 years of service in the Central Intelligence Agency.

The group meets monthly, rotating the location among the members' homes. They read all kinds of books - each proposed by individual members - the list reviewed and updated every few months.

The person who "sponsors" a book leads the discussion about it. There's just one rule. "Only one person can speak at a time," Mendez says.

The group recently read a double feature: "The Hours," a novel about Virginia Woolf, and Woolf's book "Mrs. Dalloway."

The Frog Eye Society Ladies sometimes plan field trips around the books they read. They read Nancy Rubin's "American Empress : The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post" and visited Hillwood Museum and Gardens, her Washington, D.C., estate. They are reading Adam Gopnik's "Paris to the Moon" and are thinking

There are bigger book clubs.

Washington County Free Library signed on to an online book club service a little more than a year ago, says Kathleen O'Connell, assistant director.

There are 11 "book clubs," each covering a different genre - nonfiction, horror, "good news," science fiction, teen, business and audio books.

The 213 local members receive a daily e-mail selection, which takes about five minutes to read. By the end of the week, they'll have a few chapters. If they like the sample, they can check out the book from the library.

And Joseph Berger, a reference librarian at Washington County Free Library, recently launched another book club of sorts. The new book discussion program is called BookShare and will have "live" meetings - different dates for different genres - at the downtown Hagerstown central library on the second Tuesday of each month.

Those unable to attend the meetings can share comments about their favorite books by e-mail. Berger plans a newsletter and hopes to expand BookShare discussions to each of the library's branches.

Oprah Winfrey says she's on a mission to make the reading club she started with her television talk show "the biggest book club in the world," according to www.oprah.com.

She's well on her way. The club, joinable online, has nearly 200,000 members, according to the Web site. Membership is free and includes "in-depth, interactive information about each book and expert study guides to make discussions more meaningful."

You get so many things out of talking about books, says Maureen Ferguson, who's been one of eight to 14 members of a Hagerstown book club for 14 years.

"We try to vary the books," she says. Sometimes the group revisits books they read years ago. They include books about philosophy, and a recent selection, Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," loaded with references to history, religion and symbolism, sparked some animated discussions.

Talking about a book provides a different way of looking at things, Ferguson says.

Jody Long, a member of the club Ferguson is in, hosted the most recent meeting of the group. She cites several reasons for her involvement. They include motivation to read, sharing books and ideas, intellectual stimulation, opening up areas for further study and research.

"The discussion is subjective," Long says. "Each person brings unique experience to the book."

That experience is shared in a book club.

Long has a couple of other reasons for her book club membership - fellowship and friendship.

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