WILMINGTON — The Wilmington United Methodist Church book club recently celebrated the reading of its 200th book; a remarkable milestone they are proud of as they celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary.
Organized in 2001 by an associate pastor of the church, the group has grown and changed over the years. Ginny Hipple is the current organizer and works hard to keep it interesting and fun.
“We’ve been through a lot of changes over the years,” Hipple said, moving from a weekly meeting to a monthly meeting, reading one chapter at a time to finish the entire book before discussion.
“We decided to read the whole book and meet on the last Wednesday of the month,” Hipple said.
The book discussion group does not meet in July or December, but reads an impressive 10 books a year.
The group has endured despite the pandemic, sometimes meeting on Zoom, trying out a hybrid model, and now excited to meet in person again. The books are selected at the beginning of each year in order to establish a roadmap for the group.
If a member can’t make an appointment, they know in advance what the next month’s book will be.
“We try to make the list in November each year so members can put them on their gift lists,” Hipple said.
Each year has a unique theme or way of selecting books. One year was all Massachusetts writers; another year it was member suggestions pulled out of a hat. This year’s theme is female protagonists from multiple eras.
“We’ll look at what a woman can do now versus then and draw contrasts,” Hipple said.
But, Hipple is quick to explain that the book club isn’t too literary or nerd.
“We’re definitely staying on track, but we’re open to discussion and disagreements, and we really like everyone contributing,” said Hipple, who describes the band as “really down to earth.”
Hipple creates smart activities for every book meeting, finding ways to spark discussion and make topics relevant. The group has even held field trips over the years to accompany a book’s script and dinner parties to reflect a book’s setting. For example, when the group read “The Shell Seekers” by Rosamunde Pilcher, they visited a summer residence in Gloucester for their discussion.
When the group had a chance to review a working draft of a novel, they were able to visit the author on Martha’s Vineyard and share their comments, which were eventually incorporated by the author. When the book was published, the author invited the band back and signed copies for them.
The book club took members from around the world through the pages of its stories, and members pinned maps showing exactly where they read these books. A meal of Tunisian cuisine served as the backdrop for one discussion, and a progressive dinner, complete with costumes, for another. The band even got a songwriting expert to do a presentation after reading Patricia Highsmith’s “The Tremor of Forgery.”
For the 200th book, “American Cake” by Anne Byrn, the members baked 15 different types of cakes for their celebration.
“It was really wonderful and interesting,” Hipple said.
The book documents the history of more than 125 cakes, tracing the baking of festive cakes from American design to the modern era.
Hipple described the trip in a recent letter to the group: “From biblical times to the present, through the revolutionary and civil wars, World Wars I and II and the Vietnam War. We have been through genocide, eugenics, persecution, slavery and torture. There have been tales with elephants, horses, dogs, bees, a pig and penguins. The pages have taken us around the world to settings in Europe, Africa, Asia and across the United States. We have climbed mountains, crossed deserts and been to Antarctica.
Hipple said the discussions are always lively and it’s very rewarding when members read a book they might not have picked up otherwise and end up thoroughly enjoying the book. Sometimes a member does not finish a book but comes to the discussion and, after hearing the ideas, wishes they were done reading.
Members borrow books from the library, some buy the books for their own collections, and still others use tablets or e-readers to access the material. An important dimension of the group is the camaraderie and support it gave to its members. The band helped each other through personal challenges along the way, such as health issues and relationship issues.
“It’s not just about the books; it’s also about the friendships and relationships we’ve made,” Hipple said.