Bronxville Book Clubs Thrive as Venue for Reading, Discussion, and Friendships Print

Dec. 18, 2013:  Combine good books with meeting friends for coffee, over lunch, or at dinner, and you have a winning formula for a lively and sometimes challenging book club.

Bronxville can boast a good number of active books clubs, each with its own approach to reading new books, classics, fiction and nonfiction bestsellers, and the occasional lesser-known work. Some clubs meet seasonally with the summer off, and others, like the Bronxville Men's Book Club, meet all twelve months of the year.

No matter what the club's format, members who are avid readers look forward to selecting a stimulating reading list, hearing reviews of the books selected, participating in discussions, and often sharing not-to-be-missed book recommendations.

The Bronxville Men's Book Club, founded in 2000 by Bill Snyder and Vince Brennan and now led by Donald Gray with help from David McBride, has met monthly on the second Friday for thirteen years at either Siwanoy Country Club or the Bronxville Field Club.

"We don't stop for the summer," said Gray. "We have missed only two meetings in thirteen years."

With just under thirty members, the club has tended to focus on nonfiction books and, for the past year and a half, has read several books dealing with the history of World War II. Member Peter Thorp noted, however, that the club also reads two or three novels each year, plus one broadly defined "classic" book.

At the meetings, which Thorp described as informal, one member reviews the book selection and then opens up a discussion that all members can join. At last Friday's meeting, the members discussed The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, an account of the University of Washington rowing team and its travels to Berlin for the 1936 Olympic Games. The club's selection for January is the 1941 novel Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, set during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

A women's book club that meets the first Monday of the month at members' homes establishes its reading list each spring for the following year. Its approximately fifteen members began meeting in 2007 and they not only discuss and review the books, they also welcome the occasional author and enjoy field trips to hear authors speak. Jennifer Egan went to a meeting and spoke about her book Visit from the Goon Squad; she described how she came up with ideas for the bookMembers of the club will hear author Robert Caro speak at the University Club in New York City about his latest book, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume IV. 

The club convenes from October to June each year, and a different member leads each meeting. Book selections range from biographies and memoirs to novels to books dealing with scientific topics. This calendar year, the club has read and discussed The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance, Edmund de Waal's family history memoir framed by a collection of netsuke, Japanese wood and ivory carvings, and Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, built around living one's life more than once. More than one member admitted being challenged by Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans by John Marzluff and Tony Angell, which examines the connections between crows and humans.

Mayor Mary Marvin described her monthly evening book club, twenty-five years strong, as a place where "people take the reading very seriously." Club members pay special attention to filling out their September through June reading list with a variety of genres and include several classics. They choose books one month in advance.

Marvin noted that members have "a great sense of buying local" and tend to purchase books at Womrath Bookshop.

"We have a great book discussion to begin the meetings," Marvin said. Members rotate hosting duties, and the host prepares a full sit-down dinner for club's approximately 15 members. Hosts sometimes prepare a meal based on the book's theme or setting.

The club just finished reading Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey's novel about homesteading in Alaska in the 1920s and read Mary Shelley's classic, Frankenstein, for its Halloween meeting. Adding to the festivities, one member came to the meeting dressed as the Bride of Frankenstein.

Marvin summed up the positive book club experience by saying, "It has created wonderful bonds in literature and friendship."

Photo by A. Warner