(T-G Photo by John I. Carney) [Order this photo]
The videoconference was held last Sunday. Two surviving founding members, Hortense Cooper and Katherine Potts, were special guests.
The videoconference, conducted through the online video calling service Skype, brought together the nine winning book clubs with Wolitzer and the magazine's editors. Each group could see and hear the others, and each club got the chance to ask two questions of the author.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
"Welcome to a beautiful anniversary, honoring such lovely women," said Hunt to the assembled club members in a conference room at Child Development Center as they waited for the videoconference to begin.
The club will make a contribution to Argie Cooper Public Library in honor of Cooper and Potts, both of whom now live outside the county. Mrs. Cooper, the widow of former Tennessee governor Prentice Cooper, was accompanied to the event by her son, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper. The library is named for Prentice Cooper's mother.
More magazine's Eat, Drink, Read Book Club Contest asked book clubs nationwide to submit an essay stating why they should be chosen for the event. Thursday Book Club member Sarah Hunt submitted this winning essay:
"Founded in 1952, the Thursday Book Club in Shelbyville, TN, has a rich history of engaging women in reading, learning and discussing ideas of writers and thinkers. Initially, the club was an 'escape' tool to break away from a Southern tradition of smiling, nodding and politely agreeing with everything, and knowing when to keep quiet.
"Once the club was formed, the trust developed among the members. The sleeves were rolled up, the guard was let down and women tangled with the thought-provoking ideas of The Great Books, Chinese poetry, college literature curriculum and the winning selections of the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award. This year, as we celebrate 60 years of reading, we are honoring our remaining two founding members. We will pay tribute to the mother of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and the widow of a WWII Pacific pilot. Highlighting their contributions and reading with Meg Wolitzer would be the best of 60 years of reading!"
When the club was founded, it was affiliated with the Great Books Foundation, which had been started in the 1940s by two University of Chicago professors. The foundation published a regular newsletter and assigned books to its affiliated clubs to discuss.
Hunt, as in the essay, pointed out that when the club first started, women were more likely to be homemakers and didn't have as active a place in the world of ideas as they do today.
That's not all that has changed.
"The way we read today is quite different," said Hunt, noting that about half of the Thursday Book Club's members now read books on tablets like the iPad or e-readers like the Nook or Kindle.
Some of the books read recently by the club, in addition to Wolitzer's, include "The Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell, "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by K. Hosseini and "The Power of One" by Bryce Courtenay.
Because Sunday's event was, in part, a celebration of the club's heritage, the menu was chosen with an eye towards genteel Southern tradition. Country ham and biscuits, cucumber sandwiches, chess squares, key lime pie tarts, cheese straws and sweet tea flavored with mint leaves were all chosen with a nod to the past.
Wolitzer's novel "The Uncoupling," published in April, tells the story of a New Jersey town turned on its ear by a high school production of the ancient Greek play "Lysistrata," in which women withhold sex from their husbands in order to end the Peloponnesian War. The ancient play seems to cast a spell on the women in its modern-day audience, with consequences for various characters and relationships.
The New York Times called the book "enchanting from start to finish" and said "Thoughtful and touching, 'The Uncoupling' is also very funny."
Hunt called the teleconference "a little bumpy" but said the club did get to ask Wolitzer a question about the likelihood of the book being turned into a movie.
The local club's original members were Cooper, Potts, Faith Phillips, Mary Bird Douglas King, Barbara Tilford, Elizabeth Chase and Jane Thomas. Other members through the years have included Elizabeth Woosley, Frances Bobo, Marion Flynn, Mary Ruth Maupin, Betty Terry, Louise Breast, Sarah Thomas, Celeste Abernathy, Lib McLean, Margaret Thomas, Ethel Mae Judd, Kathleen Shofner and Emily Davies.
Current members are Hunt, Kimi Abernathy, Nancy June Brandon, Anna Marie Bomar, June Gilmore, Mary Gore, Lynn Hulan, Nancy Hulan, Sarah Hunt, Suzy Lambeth, Vicki McCord, Mary Carol Palmer, Rosalind Roche, Alice Russell and Claudia Smith.