Monday, February 28, 2011

A book club's first century

Amy Guth, Chicago Tribune reporter, February 25, 2011

When Zetema book club began, William Howard Taft (right) was president of the United States, the Vatican issued an oath against modernism, and this very news organization printed an advertisement from Cadillac promoting an upcoming fleet of automobiles, including a luxurious limousine for $3,000.

Founded in 1910 in Ottawa, Ill., the Zetema book club started for the purposes of "study and mutual improvement," said member Judith Wrobel. Members have gathered in her Ottawa home midafternoon to explain more than a century of club history.

Helen Thomas, 80, said with a smile: "We have a different format than most book clubs. That makes us a little special." Following a longtime tradition, the club has one member select and read a book, then deliver an educational review.

Of the group's format, relatively new member Christy Myers, originally from Lombard but now an Ottawa resident, said, "It's more intellectually…" she paused, looking around the room. "Even though we laugh, it has that serious edge to it. We do actively listen and we learn a number of subjects that we wouldn't ordinarily pick up."

Polite joking is the response to inquiries about age, but consensus among the 20 members is that they range from early 50s to mid-80s.

Thomas, a retired teacher, past president and now honorary member - meaning she is no longer required to host, review or pay the $5 per year dues - is a professional storyteller and serious about her tennis game. Unsurprisingly, she is also an active recruiter for the invitation-only club.

When asked how often a proposed member is turned down, the room answered loudly and nearly in unison, "Never!"

Though deeply connected to its roots and tradition, the club embraces change: While most prefer paper books, a handful of the Zetema members use e-reader devices. One member even prefers a smart phone e-reader app.

"I have a Kindle," said Judith Shaikh, also a past president and now honorary member who relocated to Ottawa from her native London in the 1970s.

Member Mary Ellen Gelbuda, mother of six said of her iPad, "To be able to have any book at your fingertips is wonderful."
Full report at Chicago Tribune.

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