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Seven years of reading, learning and laughing

By Staff | Aug 13, 2010

Book Club members Margaret Cogswell, Wendy Moreland, Marie DeWalt, Marilyn Preuit and Laura Turman pose for a photo in Shepherdstown. Members not pictured include Roberta DeBiasi, Kris Hoellen, Johnnice Porter and Jody Chaney. (Steve Wabnitz/Chronicle)

Ernest Hemingway once said, “ll good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened, and after you are finished reading one, you feel that it all happened to you and after which it all belongs to you.”

Many would agree with his quote and tell you that such sentiment is a big part of their reason for reading books.

This month one group of voracious readers celebrates its seventh year as a book club, having read more than 80 books during that time. Five of the members met at Betty’s Diner in Shepherdstown recently to share their stories about the club and to encourage others to consider forming book clubs of their own.

While no official name for the club exists, the group, which consists of nine professional women – all of whom have children – has been dubbed “The Dessert Club” by their husbands. This may not be far from the mark, as each month they rotate as hostess – whose search for the right treats to serve is nearly as important as choosing the right book. That selection also is the hostess’ privilege.

Laura Turman is credited as the founder of the club. She recruited Marie DeWalt and Marilyn Preuit, who lived in the same neighborhood. They talked to each other as she pushed a stroller with a newborn baby during walks.

If you are “trolling” for new friends, she said it proved to be a pretty effective way to do that. And with several discussions about books they were reading, it was a natural progression to get together with an exchange of ideas that evolved into a plan: “Why don’t we meet every month and choose a new book to read?”

It is unclear which one of the literary trio may have said those words, but that’s what happened. From there, other friends were invited to join them as they formed a close-knit collection of ladies interested in a wide variety of topics.

While their monthly meetings often turn into discussions that have nothing to do with a book review, all agree that they “spend a lot of time laughing” and having a great time together. DeWalt explained that those get togethers are “a gift to ourselves,” enjoying them so much that she has yet to miss a single meeting since they began seven years ago.

As they discussed some of the books they have read, several stood out for different reasons. One was an advance copy about Frank Lloyd Wright that had been sent to the Four Seasons Book Store in Shepherdstown. When they decided to read it, it became obvious that it would be a bit of a challenge since the women just one copy to share.

Another selection, “Big Stone Gap” by Adriana Trigiani was highlighted when the author came to Shepherdstown for a book signing.

“It was exciting to meet her after having read her book,” DeWalt said.

During a recent gathering, there also was some discussion about Turman’s book selections over the years. While described as being “naturally hysterical,” it was mentioned that her dry wit doesn’t always extend to her “cerebral choices” in books.

Then, the ladies laughed loudly as they remembered a reference to Siberian cannibals included in a book about Russia that described preparations made by prisoners escaping from the Gulag. Turman pointed out that those factual accounts were only a tiny fraction of a book that they all enjoyed tremendously, setting off another round of laughing at their inside joke.

Next months selection “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by the French philosopher Muriel Barbery, initiated conversation about another philosopher, Isaiah Berlin and his work, “The Hedgehog and the Fox.”

While Berlin wrote the tale as a joke, many people thought it profound because he was a well-known philosopher – but, indeed, he sought humor, not enlightenment. One can easily see how that insight would spark an eagerness to read the book and to see how that could come about.

Now, Barbery’s work is said to be a mixture of profound thought and humor, once again setting the stage that piques the interest of the book clubs members.

With the advent of technology, only one member has joined the electronic book age with a Kindle. The others prefer paper, liking the feel, smell and weight of a good book. Still, with ladies that read voraciously, they admitted that having a Kindle would be great when they went on trips where they would need to limit the number of books they could take with them.

While Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them,” it is the camaraderie and fun that their book club shares that was most evident during the recent interview with the ladies. Member Wendy Moreland echoed others saying, “The best part (of the club) is the laughter.”

Moreland and her supervisor, Margaret Cogswell, CEO of Hospice of the Eastern Panhandle join the other members of the group, whose careers includes a physician, nonprofit directors, federal employees, managers at Shepherd University and Turman, who owns the One Two Kangaroo Toy Store in downtown Shepherdstown.

They embrace their break from life’s pressures with their friends and with books. They were unanimous in encouraging others to form their own clubs, to take advantage of every opportunity to read and to “leaf it” at that.