Twelfth Year, or, What You Read: A Local Chapter’s Ongoing Book Club

By Mary Knatterud posted 05-01-2018 13:54


Mary E. Knatterud, PhD is the founder and coordinator of the North Central Chapter Book Club

With apologies to Shakespeare for the title of this blog (a genre he no doubt would’ve found both playful and useful), this 12th year of my chapter’s Book Club can be summed up in the following equation:

3 books on medicine/communication per year + a mean of 4 to 5 non-mean AMWA colleagues = immeasurable professional, intellectual, and social growth

A dozen years ago, after conversations with half-a-dozen fellow longtime North Central Chapter members also seeking to animate and regularize our programming, I organized a Book Club, which first met in January 2007. And I am still happily coordinating it, 35 books (as of April 2018) later. So far, in all those years, I myself have never missed a Book Club gathering—nor have I ever been, whew, the sole attendee, yet if that someday happens, no worries: wherever I go, I always bring along something to read, and I always welcome a restaurant excursion.

These 3 key components, I believe, are what have kept our Book Club going for a decade-plus:

1. sticking to a not-too-frequent (we’re all busy) schedule 
For our Book Club, I chose the last Monday in January, April, and September (skipping summer when we’re all even busier). We have met on the last Monday of those 3 months every single year, except for an unsuccessful trial of a couple Saturday forenoons (we guard our weekends).

 Although the restaurants have changed somewhat over the years (our first one closed, another closed its conference room), we have recently settled on this rotation of central Twin Cities metro locations: a comfort-food diner for a winter brunch near the Minneapolis-St. Paul border; a coffee shop near a south Minneapolis lake each spring; and a Mexican restaurant near downtown St. Paul for a supper each fall.

As of our Book Club’s 10th anniversary, our chapter now graciously covers up to $10 of each attendee’s meal or snack

2. selecting the books, together, far in advance
We already know which books to order from the library, or our favorite bookstore, through September 2019. The “together” part is critical: I feel strongly that actual attendees get to pick, which we do at the beginning of a routine gathering, roughly once a year. Everyone brings a suggestion or 2, and we decide together; for each book that makes the final list, whoever suggested it is encouraged to take the lead in the future discussion of it.

Our inaugural Book Club selection (January 2007) was Atul Gawande’s Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science; our next 2 selections (April and September 2018) are Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Emmy J. Favilla’s A World without “Whom”: The Essential Guide to Language in the Buzzfeed Age. In between, we’ve relished an abundance of heartbreaking memoirs, journalistic sagas, mystical musings, doctorly diatribes. We typically favor nonfiction touching on the world of health care and/or language, but have also sampled medically or scientifically pertinent novels (such as Allegra Goodman’s Intuition) and even a play (Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer-winning W;t).

To our delight, we have been joined, in person, by the author of 2 of our featured books (public health reporter Maryn McKenna, on 2 occasions more than 3 years apart)—and, in an iPhone real-time teleconference amid chips and salsa, by a real-life protagonist (Debra Matovic, whose husband Jeff coauthored Ticked: A Medical Miracle, a Friendship, and the Weird World of Tourette Syndrome).

3. staying on track via 1 volunteer coordinator 
At least 6 times per year, I email announcements and reminders to the usual Book Club attendees—and to the editor of our monthly chapter newsletter—regarding the upcoming gathering’s place and time, the book selections, and related news such as author appearances.

Of the many diverse roles I have played in AMWA, both nationally and locally, this one is not only the most never-ending, but also the easiest. All the emails and RSVPs and umpteen other details notwithstanding, I truly enjoy giving back to my chapter in this way.

I personally, immensely look forward to each of our isolation-breaking, mind-expanding, work-enriching Book Club gatherings. Moreover, their positive impact reaches beyond the up to a dozen (our all-time record, as I recall) attendees at any one gathering. Colleagues whose job or home obligations prevent their attendance have often told me how much they love seeing what the Book Club is up to, even reading along by themselves. As an added bonus in recent years, thanks to the initiative of regular attendee Paul W. Mamula, PhD, all readers of our chapter newsletter are treated to his thoughtful reviews, in which he generously incorporates various attendees’ insights, after each discussion.

If you would like a complete list of all 39 of our Book Club selections thus far, or have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at Happy Reading and Bon Appétit!