For 10 years, the book club at Wingate Residences, on the East Side of Providence, has met monthly in the community’s library to discuss nonfiction, classics, modern-day memoirs and everything in-between. Though members have changed, the group is well past 120 books.
“The Ghost Map,” by Steven Johnson, which delves into London’s cholera outbreak in 1854, is a recent favorite, while the group has also loved “The Stranger,” by Albert Camus, “The Professor and the Madman,” by Simon Winchester, and “Embers,” by Sándor Márai.
A visitor to the community once expressed surprise at their picks, but as Karen Ferranti, the life enrichment director who runs the club, explains it: “We’re not your grandparents’ book club.”
She continued, “The thought is that we’re reading fluff because we’re older, but we really read good books.”
Ferranti, a reading enthusiast herself, is responsible for the growth of the club since she took it over a decade ago, during its initial stages. For her, there are only a few requirements for book choices: it can’t be too long and it must be available at the library. Beyond that, “there’s no censorship,” said Beth McCrae, marketing director at the community.
That means the reading list has also included “Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance, and “Giovanni’s Room,” by James Baldwin.
“I don’t protect [members] from reality,” Ferranti said. “[Some of] our members are 100 years old, they’ve seen everything.”
Their longest member to date, Ursula Rickenberg, began attending soon after the club started. Her favorite book has been “The Professor and the Madman,” by Simon Winchester, which explores the founding of the English dictionary.Their second-longest member began attending in 2012, while a new resident even credited the book club for her decision to move to the assisted-living community, McCrae said. Typically, around 15 people attend meetings.
But Ferranti wants community members to know it’s not a private club, and that everyone is welcome, including non-residents. New members are always appreciated because they bring different perspectives, she said.
And though members have high standards for the books they read – “We have a lot of literature and English professors!” McCrae said – the club isn’t into “book-shaming” anyone.
“Read the first page [of the book],” Ferranti said. “Read half the book. Read the full book.”
Thanks to a partnership with the library, the club receives 15 copies of the chosen book each month. Depending on the number of people who plan to show up, the books sometimes get loaned out multiple times.
Ferranti said every new book is chosen with input from the group.
“Our current group loves nonfiction, but we still can’t do two nonfiction books in a row,” she said. She even tried a novel with a little romance in it recently, and said it was generally well-received, even by men in the group.
Every book isn’t an instant hit, but often during the discussion, Ferranti said, members will come around on unpopular titles after hearing what their peers have to say.
“Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee, was one such book. At first members weren’t a fan of how depressing it was, but during the discussion, they realized that the novel isn’t as discouraging as it first appears.
Often though, good conversations during the club start with the members’ own lives and how they relate to the book. The personalities of members run the gamut: some mostly listen while others frequently speak up.
The club itself is “unstructured, like poetry,” Ferranti said, allowing members to contribute as they like. Ferranti will help to fill lulls or ask questions to engage members, but otherwise the club basically runs itself.
Members Ellen Goodman and Rickenberg said they enjoy the discussions because of their liveliness. Rickenberg added that she appreciates that people are willing to disagree.
“[There’s] a positive response to others’ varied opinions,” she said.
Both McCrae and Ferranti believe the book club has become so special to the community because it’s focused on its members and the contributions they want to make.
“It’s not any one person’s club,” McCrae said.
The club meets on the last Monday of the month at 2 p.m., excluding holidays, at Wingate Residences on the East Side, One Butler Ave., Providence. If you’re interested in attending, call 401-275-0682 to reserve your spot and find out the club’s next book choice.
KATHERINE WARTELL writes about senior living topics and trends.