Never judge a book by its cover, the old saying goes. When WVXU set out to profile the local NPR-themed book club we discovered on Meetup, we should have known there'd be more to the story than a gathering of like-minded public radio nerds.
The Monday evening we arrived to the group's usual meeting spot – the top floor of the Joseph-Beth bookstore in the Rookwood Pavilion – the discussion was not about books, but rather one member's struggle with a major life change. That's how long most members of this group have been together, and evidence of the bond they have formed.
Deepa Bhattacharya started the group in June 2011. (She'll always remember the date, she says, because she was pregnant with her daughter at the time.) "I had always looked at the NPR book review section for inspiration and I thought I'd start there," she says about the club's beginnings.
She decided to use Meetup, the online platform designed to organize in-person events, to see who else might be interested. The first meeting attracted 7-8 people, and now "at least 12-13 people who joined back in 2011 still come to the meetings today," Bhattacharya says.
The book club was wholly female the night WVXU visited, but Bhattacharya says there is "one gentleman who's been around since 2011." They range in age from mothers of elementary school-aged children, like Bhattacharya, to those in retirement. While the connotation of "NPR" may have been the draw, many members now say it's the group's diversity that keeps them coming back.
"I'd been in a number of different book clubs over the course of my life, but I thought this had the opportunity to be something different," says member Leah Hoechstetter of Pleasant Ridge. "In the past, I'd been with my age peers, but here you get perspective from people that are a lot younger than I am … and they have different cultural contexts and stuff that they bring to their reading that are not my frame of reference. That broadens the experience for me and makes it a lot richer."
West Chester resident Barbara Reaman echoes the sentiment. "At the very first meeting it was clear that this was a group that was both cohesive and open, which is kind of an interesting combination – both very independent and very welcoming – and I liked all of those things," she says. "Interestingly I've read so many titles that I never would have chosen in a million years – and loved – and they're in my top 20 now. A few were dogs, but there's always gonna be that," she adds with a laugh.
The group meets outside of book club too. They have hosted holiday dinners; gone to literary-themed events at the Taft or Mercantile Library; and gone to see movie adaptations of books they've read. (Sometimes after reading, the group will discuss which celebrity they think should play a particular character. "…We called Gone Girl, Ben Affleck," Bhattacharya says, smiling, "So Ben Affleck owes us a paycheck.")
Each month's reading selection alternates between fiction and non-fiction and Bhattacharya is considering adding translated works into the mix. Past titles have included The Nature Fix, the aforementioned Gone Girl and soon, Dopesick. Unlike so many topical conversations these days, discussions never devolve into screaming matches over politics.
"There's been books on criminal justice, poverty and they all have intersections with politics, and I think it's just added to all of our own understanding," Bhattacharya says. Exchanges have been more like a "broadening of your understanding of something instead of reinforcement of your already pre-existing opinions," she adds.
Member Sue Terwilliger sums the group's appeal up nicely.
"It's a good group of people; that's really important for a book club," says the Amberley Village resident. "The ones that live on for a long time are ones where you have a core group of people who just click, and I think that's true of this group."