During the final week of our Fall Term, BOLLI’s “Book Group” engaged lunchtime attendees in a BOLLI-wide discussion of Philip Roth’s novel, Indignation.
Roth’s book is set in the 1950s and features a butcher’s son from Newark who escapes the family ties that bind by enrolling at a small, traditional college far from home in the rural Midwest.
The BOLLI Book Group’s co-organizers, Abby Pinard and Charlie Marz, moderated the event. “I think the One Bolli, One Book conversation went extremely well,” Charlie says. “I’m not very good at estimating the number of people in a crowd, but I would say there were at least 3 or 400 people in the room.” Abby suggests that 30-40 were actively engaged in the conversation circle, and mentions that another 10-20 observed from the tables.
Charlie points to the conversation as having been lively and substantive. “Rosalie Fink told me that, although she hadn’t read the novel, she found the discussion so interesting that she went out and bought it and read it, and, since that time, she’s become a bit obsessed by Roth, recommending that we do another one of his novels–American Pastoral or Nemesis. Another ‘silent’ participant, Marty Kafka from The New Yorker Fiction Salon, told me that, although he hadn’t read the book, he found the discussion so interesting that he stayed just to observe/listen.”
Both Charlie and Abby believe that the event may become an annual one, but, whether that happens or not, the BOLLI Book Group offers excellent reading and discussion opportunities on a regular basis.
Watch The Bulletin for specifics about the group’s upcoming reading and discussion plans.
Seems like such a natural for BOLLI, doesn’t it? And yet, BOLLI’s Book Club has only recently been added to an ever burgeoning array of Special Interest Groups at 60 Turner Street. Abby Pinard and Charlie Marz have been active in both the New Yorker Fiction Salon, focused on short stories, and the Poetry Circle. Both are avid readers as well, and so, it seems as though it was a completely logical step to team up and lead a BOLLI-wide Book Club. When asked about the forming of the group, the two had much to share.
> What made you decide to start the group?
Charlie: I wanted to be in a book group in which I had some greater control over the choices made. Not that we’re not completely open to others’ suggestions, but I did want to be able to exert some significant influence over what we might read. I didn’t want to do it alone and thought co-leading with Abby, one of BOLLI’s most voracious readers, would make it more interesting and enjoyable – for me and for those who attend.
Abby: It was an easy decision for me when Charlie suggested it. I love to talk about books almost as much as I love to read them, and I knew there were many BOLLI members who would be ideal companions. I had gotten to know Charlie in the New Yorker Fiction Salon and the Poetry Circle (also venues for lively discussion), and I knew his leadership would elevate any discussion.
> Have you been in other book groups?
Abby: I’ve never been in a private book group, but, after retirement, I started attending a drop-in group at the library led by a wonderful professional book group leader (yes, there is such a thing). I came to trust her selections and particularly enjoyed the books I would not have chosen on my own.
Charlie: I’m in a non-fiction book group. Mostly, we don’t talk about the month’s selection. Almost every conversation becomes a discussion of politics, more often than not the Middle East. I thought it might be time to find an opportunity to actually talk about interesting and provocative contemporary literary fiction.
> How did you go about choosing the books that you have chosen for the group thus far?
Charlie: So far, they’ve been a mix of books we’ve read and felt would be good for discussion (Stegner’s Crossing to Safety) and books from our stacks of books we’ve not read but that have been well received (Schlink’s Homecoming and Erdrich’s The Round House). We’ve also tried to focus on work that is relatively accessible (i.e. in paperback and without long wait lines at the library), relatively short (200-300+ pages), and by important if sometimes overlooked writers.
Abby: We also wanted to mix things up: something old, something new, some challenging, some less so,…
> What plans do you have for the future of the group?
Charlie: Our hope is that we will continue to meet monthly throughout the year and that there will continue to be a group of 15 – 20 who find the books selected and conversation sufficiently interesting to trust our choices and to return as often as possible.
Abby: What he said.
> So, what are some of your all-time favorite books?
Abby: Here are a few, spanning many years–The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass, Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, the four “Rabbit” novels by John Updike, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth, anything by Philip Roth,…
Charlie: Hard enough to remember what I read last week. I suppose McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Chabon’s Kavalier and Clay, early John Irving, McKewan’s Atonement …
Clearly, these two have excellent taste, and each gathering of the group is sure to be an animated and engaged one. Come once–come regularly. And enjoy!