Book Club Still Going Strong at 50

I had forgotten about the rich mixture of age, friendship, opinions and brain power that is part and parcel of “Evening Books.” Busy juggling work and family, I dropped my favorite book club 15 years ago. Of course, now I wish I had stayed.

No matter. As I greeted former book companions on a sunny Sunday at Oakland’s Bellevue club, I realized the time that had elapsed was irrelevant. The hugs and memories flew fast as we settled down to a delicious lunch to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Evening Books. This club is offered through the Oakland-Piedmont branch of the American Association of University Women.

Math never lies. Quick subtracting told me that Evening Books was birthed in 1954. I was 4 and living in Pennsylvania, when Vera Dicky, now 80, co-launched the club. The minute I spotted Dicky, trim and elegant in an apricot-colored suit, intelligent eyes sparkling, I recalled her awesome book reviews. In my mind’s eye, there was Dicky, cup of tea in hand and a large map spread across her lap, discussing John Steinbeck. She wove history, geography, and Steinbeck’s personal life into a rich portrayal of his life and writing.

As Dicky addressed us during that Sunday lunch, I learned that she joined AAUW 60 years ago and has been a member of several local branches. She explained that Evening Books started as Afternoon Books and was originally offered as an intellectual and social escape for university-educated housewives and moms.

Dicky and many members agree that the book club’s unique structure helped it continue and thrive in contemporary times. Club members meet in June for a potluck dinner and plan the entire upcoming year’s agenda. Members recommend, debate and vote, choosing a monthly book for September to May. Next, they select each book’s reviewer; the home for each meeting and volunteers to help with snacks. Right from the start the club mandated: “A book review must be a review and not a summary.”

Joanne Sandstrom, who authored a memoir about sailing the world with her husband and children, joined the club “sometime around the 1980s.” Still energetic, at the lunch she showed us her first childhood book, a tattered and dog-eared “365 Bedtime Stories,” published in 1937. “I read every story, except one: ‘The Busy Little Housekeeper.’” she said.

Evening Books also honored 80-year-old Dorothea Krouch, who co-launched the club with Dicky. Vibrant and spry, Krouch had driven from the far reaches of the Point Reyes seashore to join us.

As the afternoon waned, all agreed that the club was more than literary analysis. Sandstrom summarized: “It has meant lives touching other lives and friendships formed.”

Dicky quoted Francis Bacon: “Some books are to be tasted, others swallowed, others chewed and digested.” And in her own words: “We have had a sumptuous feast; may it continue for 50 more years.”

Founded it 1881, with 1,300 branches, AAUW supports education and equity for girls and women. For more information, call (800) 326-2289 or go online to www.aauw.org.