Read any good books lately? Novel views at monthly book discussion group

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Attending a recent monthly book discussion group at the Guttenberg Public Library were, seated from left, Janette Hansel, Juanita Loven, Gail Larson and Jill Purvis; standing, Pat Krapfl, Donna Kann, Sherry Oliver and Nancy Ruzicka. Not pictured are Rosemary Neylan, Carolyn Clefisch, Barb Hansel and Jenny Meyer. (Press photo by Shelia Tomkins)

By Shelia Tomkins

For more than ten years, a small group of booklovers has met  regularly at the Guttenberg Public Library to discuss their reactions to the chosen "book of the month."

The group began in 2007 as a small gathering of readers. Caroline Rosacker of the library staff was the first leader, a role now facilitated by Nancy Ruzicka, assistant librarian.

Participants can make suggestions on which books to discuss, with the leader making the final choice each month, based on whether or not enough copies of the book can be procured from other libraries.

Donna Kann, an original member of the group, has kept a list of books read through the years and recently counted 130 titles.  

Members enjoy the monthly get-together for numerous reasons, but the common theme is a love of reading. "I enjoy book discussion because the books are often different than ones I would choose on my own," said Pat Krapfl. "It challenges me to broaden my reading or thinking. I also enjoy discussing books with people who may have different perspectives than I do."

Jill Purvis joined the group when she moved to the area with the idea of meeting new people. "Not only did I gain a circle of new friends, but expanded my reading to other genres," she said. "This group of women are thoughtful and insightful; always providing viewpoints and reactions I had not considered. Now, after eight years, I still look forward each month to book club."

Janette Hansel's reason for joining was similar to Jill's. "In the beginning, it helped me meet new people when I moved back. Now it is a group who discusses books, but also has become a group who respects each person's view and opinion, who are very comfortable with each other. Some discussions become quite personal, but there is an unspoken agreement that what is discussed remains within the group."

Juanita Loven has been a long-time member of the group, and marks 21 years of participating in book discussion groups, including the one sponsored by Books, Etc., beginning in 1997 and still in progress. Looking back, some of the titles that stand out in her memory ­—  because they provided good in-depth discussion material — include Cutting for Stone, Unbroken, Hillbilly Elegy, The Kite Runner, The Devil in the White City, 1000 White Women and The Worst Hard Time.

Some can recall a special favorite, while others echoed Pat Krapfl's sentiment. "It's difficult to choose just one book. Even if I find one boring or unpleasant to read, I still finish it and enjoy the discussion," she said.

Donna Kann agreed it was difficult to list a favorite, but one she recently enjoyed was Before We Were Yours.

Two readers, Jill Purvis and Janette Hansel, recalled a historical fiction novel,  The Widow's War, by Sally Cabot Gunning, as especially memorable.  Jill Purvis summarized the plot that tells the story of a strong woman who becomes a widow after 20 years of marriage when her seafaring husband doesn't return. "The war is for her independence from what was expected of women in that time period. Like so many stories, this one resonates because I ask myself what would I do if confronted with the same situation in modern times," she said.

Janette Hansel said the novel highlights the hardships the widow faced because of the law of the land and her fight against those inqualities. "I love history and the book highlights issues that still exist today," she commented. 

Gail Larson noted, "One of my personal preferences is avoiding books that exploit animals for bad or no reasons. But one of my favorite books was Carl Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy, even though I was at first hesitant just about the title.  Actually, his books are often hilarious and I have relatives who live in Florida who insist that even at his most outrageous he is relating life as it really is in Florida.  So, without giving too much away, I can say the reason I really recommend this book is for what I call 'The Rhino’s Revenge.'"

Nancy Ruciska has enjoyed her time as discussion facilitator. "They are a terrific group of ladies," she said. "It still amazes me how differently each one internalizes the book. Some come to the discussion with the intent of discussing the book just as it is written, some come and dissect the story. Some raise the questions of what was missing that would have made the story more complete or how it could have gone another direction or even critique the writing style. My favorite questions that they ask are: did this author write more books or when is their next book coming out?"  

Gail summed up two reasons the group has continued to meet through the years. "One, I enjoy reading a wide selection of books, many which I would probably not have chosen on my own or even thought to look for, and two, I also enjoy the discussions with a group of pleasant broad-minded women.  We can disagree without being disagreeable.  And we laugh a lot."

Meetings are held the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at the library. Anyone is welcome to join; check with the librarian in advance if you are interested in taking part.

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