Great literature endures and so does the story of the neighborhood book club in The Woods at Muddy Branch (WAMB). Established in 1998, the long-running group of avid readers is turning the page on its 20th anniversary. Club member Nancy Hadad said the purpose of the club is to “enjoy great literature, both fiction and nonfiction, and to socialize with the dear friends that are also our neighbors.”
Seventy-one homes comprise the WAMB development where every female resident is invited to partake of the good reads and good times. “We started with about a dozen people in 1998 and the numbers have grown ever since,” said resident Janine Mooney. Since its inception, nearly 40 women have been part of the club. “A funny thing is that because the guys in the neighborhood felt left out, they started to get together and do dinner and a movie night on book club nights. Of course, that was when all our kids got older and didn’t need babysitters anymore,” explained club member Lisa Woodard.
The club meets monthly with members taking turns hosting. The first hour typically begins in the kitchen and focuses on “eating, socializing and catching up on each other’s lives. It is a great way to keep our neighborhood cohesive and involved with each other,” said Hadad. Next the group settles in another room for “a pretty good heartfelt discussion about the book for around one and a half to two hours. … It’s a good balance of book and banter,” added Hadad.
“At one time, many years ago, there was a concern that the club had become too social and those that had read a great book felt a bit disappointed. To address that, we declared a designated social time and then a dedicated ‘book discussion time,’” noted club member Karen Snyder.
Hadad said it’s “no surprise” that the group tends to read “a lot of books about strong and inspirational women.” Many of the club’s selections are books set in other countries, such as India and Afghanistan, or focused on world wars. Historical fiction is popular, and occasionally nonfiction is added to the booklist such as Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” “It was fascinating to hear the opinions of several successful businesswomen in our group,” said Hadad.
When the club discussed Juliette Fay’s novel “Deep Down True,” the author joined the group by speakerphone. Hadad said it was “very exciting to get her perspective firsthand.” The club has read the works of local authors including Su Meck’s “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia” and Potomac’s Nadia Hashimi’s “The Pearl That Broke Its Shell.”
Snyder added, “We read ‘Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family’ by Amy Ellis Nutt who lives in D.C. It is the story of a transgender identical twin boy that knew she was a girl from a very young age and the triumphs and tragedies her family experienced and follows her journey through to adulthood.”
Book discussions are sometimes led by a researcher rather than the hostess; questions are also found online; or “an ambitious person makes up her own questions,” said Hadad. She added, “A few years ago, we decided to spice up our discussions by doing more than just (book) questions. For example, after reading a book about a woman that lost her mother when she was young, one of the ladies asked us to come prepared with an answer to the question, ‘If you could ask your mother any question, if no question was off limits, whether she is still alive or not, what would you want to know?’ That was a great discussion!”
On April 11, the WAMB book club celebrates its longevity and begins its next chapter at the home of Maureen Khattar. A list of the more than 200 books read by the group over its two decades will be distributed. Club member Blythe McGinty is working to gather the entire collection for a novel display. “That will be an impressive sight!” exclaimed Snyder.
Hadad said that “beautifully prepared and served food” will be plentiful as usual and “even more importantly, wine!” Fruit, vegetables, crackers and cheese, dips and several desserts typically round out the festive fare. “Some people have made food in the theme of the book,” added Hadad. “Once the entire spread was Indian, which is where the book was set. When we read ‘Water for Elephants,’ Karen Snyder served popcorn and cotton candy for the circus theme. We never go away hungry, that’s for sure, and as I said, wine is a staple!”
Unexpected outcomes have occurred when the group veered away from the book and “people’s own experiences, sparked by the book that we read, were more fascinating than the book itself,” said Hadad. “Their experiences became the main topic and, as you can imagine, these were some of the best book clubs, being that they were very intimate and brought us closer together.”