Opinion

Page 2: Flossmoor Book Club: Bigger than its name?

Flossmoor Book Club President Marsha Weiner, at the podium on the right, gets the Oct. 20, 2023, meeting started.
(Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

I think Flossmoor Book Club might be misnamed.

I’ll explain.

Last fall, the club’s publicity coordinator, Fran Arvia, invited me to a meeting.

Before the meeting, I had in my head an image of the only kind of book club I was familiar with, the kind where everyone reads the same book, gets together in a living room or a coffee shop and discusses the featured book.

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When I arrived at Shir Tikvah in Homewood on Oct. 20, I was surprised to discover the meeting room was full of tables and the tables were full of readers.

This club wouldn’t fit in 10 coffee shops.

The club’s membership coordinator reported there were 85 paid members in the club that day, and if any of a half-dozen guests joined, the club would be near its goal of reaching 90 members that year.

Club President Marsha Weiner got the meeting started with a plug for the health benefits of reading, citing a March 2023 story published in the Chicago Tribune, which noted that reading helps improve memory, slows mental decline, lowers risk of dementia, relieves stress and can contribute to longevity.

“This is something you should do in addition to visiting your doctor for your physical each year,” she said. “Grab some books from us and we’ll help you improve your health.”

Arvia also shared with me a brief summary of the club’s history. The organization is not only large. It’s got respectable longevity.

“It’s really very interesting to read the history of the Flossmoor Book Club,” she said. “I always stop at the first line that says it started in 1936, which is a pretty long time for one club to keep going.”

More tidbits from the club’s history highlights:

  • “Refreshments were not offered, and no sewing was allowed.”
  • In the beginning, it was limited to women from Flossmoor. In 1949, the club began welcoming members from other communities.
  • Refreshments were added to meetings in 1967 (and nowadays the potluck treats make for an impressive spread).

The meetings now include reports from coordinators of various club duties, from membership to the library. That was another thing I didn’t expect. The club has its own library, supported by dues, that members can borrow from.

Rather than a discussion, the meetings include book reviews provided by members of a committee for that purpose.

There’s also a speaker. Program chair Linda Peterson introduced Randy Madderom at the October meeting, who sang and read original poetry.

Since then, the meetings have featured Karen O’Donnell, founder of Homewood Stories, and Megan Wells, one of the best storytellers in the country. (Disclosure: Megan was the celebrant for our eldest child’s wedding in 2017, so I might be a bit biased, but I’m not wrong. If you’ve ever seen her perform, I feel confident you would agree.)

The members at my table included Arvia, Jeanine Hellstrom, Marcia Zmuda, Diane Kaminski and Angie Zmuda. All are retired, and all said they valued the club not only for the books but for the friends they’ve made. The club membershp remains mostly women, but Arvia said there are a few men who have joined.

So to tally it all up. The club has a wealth of members, venerability, great food, many books and enthralling guest speakers. You can see why “club” might seem too modest a name. I think maybe Flossmoor Book Convention would be a better fit. But of course, I defer to tradition and will continue to refer to it by its proper name.

Anybody who loves books and socializing with people who love books and listening to reviews of books and having access to good books, this is your place. These are your people.

The club meets the third Friday of the month September through December and February and March at Shir Tikvah, 1424 183rd St. in Homewood. In April, the club hosts a luncheon at a local restaurant.

Antiracism library

For a good Women’s History Month read, listening to women who made history makes sense. “Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement” by Janet Dewart Bell is a good title to try.

Aside from her introductions to each of the nine women featured in her book, Bell steps back and lets the women tell their stories. The first-person accounts give voice to the women who contributed in various ways to the movement: Leah Chase, June Jackson Christmas, Aileen Hernandez, Diane Nash, Judy Richardson, Gay McDougall, Gloria Richardson and Myrlie Evers.

With the exception of Nash and Evers, I wasn’t familiar with the other women. That was the real value of the book for me, getting to know about women who made a difference but aren’t prominent in the history books. They should not be forgotten.

Several of them make the point that it was the women of the movement who did much of the on the ground organizing without which the marches, voter registration drives and sit-ins would not have happened.

Just as their names have faded from the histories and mainstream retellings of the movement, they often faced erasure because of sexism during the movement.

McDougall notes that she faced sexism in both the American Civil Rights Movement and the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement. She raised money, organized sit-ins and demonstrations. In the book there is a photo of her standing next to Nelson Mandela as he cast his first vote in 1994.

“When male leaders tell the history of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, I am mostly overlooked,” she said. “But not only was I there for every event, I played an important role in every event.”

As Bell notes in the introduction, “Beyond Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dorothy Height, most Americans would find it difficult to name women civil rights leaders — though there were many. … In their passionate and committed lives, these women confronted American racism with bold resolve.”

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