By Marian Deutschman
I just finished another book on the lifespan of an individual. At this stage of my life I am becoming very interested in the legacy left behind. This wasn’t a new book but one that I acquired at the annual book sale of the American Association of University Women. The fact that it’s an Oprah book club choice gave it a stamp of approval. Oprah has enticed many readers to good fiction. The New York Times reports that more than 5 million adults are in book groups. The public seems to embrace book clubs even when social media is so pervasive.
I found that book clubs like Bistro Bookers are an ideal way for me to keep reading, talk about what I’m reading, hear one expert review another expert, and make friends with other readers. Bistro Bookers is about to do its 200th book review with a celebrity reviewer or author. I’ve been on its board, called the B.L.O.O.M. group – Book Lovers of our Metropolis – since 1990, when the book club was launched.
At that time there weren’t many attractions to keep commuters downtown after office hours so my visionary friend, Ann Angelo, decided that downtown restaurants could use more business on weekday evenings. With sponsorship by the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, we began with an array of restaurants providing hors d’oeuvres and review space. Attendees could buy a drink or not.
Recently published nonfiction books were expected to attract a professional worker after a day at work. Eventually the target became a broader audience. For the last 28 years we have selected celebrity reviewers and attracted an audience of 60 to 100-plus to each review. When Vincent O'Neill, artistic director at the Irish Classical Theatre, reviewed “Angela’s Ashes” we had to turn away more than 100 people. We’ve now narrowed the restaurants to only one that can accommodate our attendees.
Although book club membership skews in favor of women, Bistro Bookers attracts those men and women who may be more frequent visitors to the library. Men say a book club gets them to read a variety of books that they would not read otherwise and they enjoy the Q&A and discussions. At first I bought each book before the reviews that were scheduled at six-week intervals. Then I decided all books are not “keepers.” However, some become keepers such as “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson, a nonfiction book that covers a period of historical significance and the lifespan and legacy of three people.
Overwhelmingly, book club participants like myself want to read books that expand their horizons, allow them to look into the lives of others, or books that help them reflect on aspects of their own lives and their own legacy. Seventy percent of clubs read fiction most of the time. We decided on nonfiction but occasionally, we do schedule local authors who write fiction.
Our 200th review in October will be by local authors Donald L. Rust and Alan G. Weinstein discussing “Unleashing Human Energy,” a book about culture change and its legacy at the local General Motors plant in the 1990s.
Book club participation tends to increase with age, attracting those who have time, a desire to make connections and who welcome the intellectual challenge. Bistro Bookers has no membership fee, no bylaws, and no commitment. We just notify you by email when the next review is scheduled and which celebrity is doing the review. Check the Buffalo & Erie County Library website for more information. Perhaps we’ll see you at the next review.
Marian Deutschman is a retired SUNY Buffalo State professor who enjoys books and learning about the lives of others.