Book club enjoying good reads since ’63

May 5, 2009

By David Hayes

Madelyn Larsen (top) reads her review of ‘Schultz and Peanuts: A Biography’ as another Belle Arts Book Club member looks at the final ‘Peanuts’ strip that ran in The Seattle Times. By David Hayes

Madelyn Larsen (top) reads her review of ‘Schultz and Peanuts: A Biography’ as another Belle Arts Book Club member looks at the final ‘Peanuts’ strip that ran in The Seattle Times. By David Hayes

In 1963, some members from the Church Women’s Organization were looking to form a club to get better acquainted.

Discarded were dinner clubs and bowling teams. They instead went with Mary Wells’ idea of a book club. Thus, the Belle Arts Book Club was born.

“It never crossed my mind that it could survive this long,” said Wells, 85, a resident of Bellevue since 1962. “I think it’s the fact that we all enjoy good literature and most of us belong to the same church.”

The group has kept its membership at a constant 24, as most homes can’t accommodate larger numbers, she said. About one-third of the membership, open to Eastside residents, hail from Issaquah. At 49, Connie Stromberg is one of the youngest members. She said what’s kept her in the club after 10 years are lively discussions about a variety of topics.

“At one point, we had a discussion on capital punishment,” recalled Stromberg, a past president. “We had a member whose brother was a governor of a state. Her conversations with him with his years of experience dealing with death penalty cases added so much to our discussion that it enriched the whole evening.”The group’s president meets once a year with the program chairman and secretary and they set a theme. Stromberg said themes have included the abstract, such as “My favorite…” or “the lake,” and have touched most genres from biographies to fiction. Members take turns reading a book, and then writing or sharing a review for the full group.

“What I enjoy is there is never any pressure to read the book being reviewed, except once a year when we have an all-read,” Stromberg said.

She boasts that the group has been ahead of the curve when it came to recommended reading. Wells once reviewed a Readers Digest condensed book, long before it was published or made into a groundbreaking miniseries — Alex Haley’s “Roots.”

New members are usually recruited into the club via personal invitation. Stromberg was invited to join by her close friend, Madelyn Larsen. At 77, Larsen’s been a member of the club the third longest.

At the club’s most recent meeting, Larsen reviewed “Schultz and Peanuts: A Biography” about the renowned creator of the long-running comic strip. She’d been ready to review it since October, but had to wait after her turn was delayed by the winter storms until spring.

“Everybody seemed to love the presentation,” said Larsen, a resident of Sammamish since 1967. “They were sharing and talking about how similar his experiences were to their own growing up.”

Larsen made the proceedings more challenging by awarding prizes for answering trivia questions.

Stromberg said the extras that the club does go a long way to keeping members interested in remaining.

“We always have a big cultural event each year, whether it’s going to the 5th Avenue Theatre, the opera or for a ride on the dinner train,” she said. “This year, we’re going as a group to Village Theatre’s ‘Show Boat.’”

Many of the members boast of owning an impressive collection of books. Wells said because she reads all the time, she usually has one in her bedroom, bathroom, den and kitchen.

“In the past years, since I’m 85 now, I’ve told my kids that as far as gifts are concerned, if I can’t wear it, eat it or read it, I don’t need it. So, I get lots of books as gifts,” she said.

And a book is the gift that keeps on giving with the members of her club.

Reach Reporter David Hayes at 392-6434, ext. 237, or dhayes@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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