Carol Beach Book Club celebrates 30 years together

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Carol Beach Book Club members Ruth Vorwald and Anita VanDenBergh talk about the club’s first 30 years.



Ruth Vorwald was just looking for a way to meet some of her new neighbors.

Three decades later, that initiative – which sparked the Carol Beach Book Club – is still going strong.

“We had built a house in Carol Beach, and I didn’t know anyone, having moved here from Illinois,” she said. “A colleague was in a book club and she told me about it. It sounded fun, so I said “I have to do this”.

While “pushing my son in his stroller,” Vorwald met another young mom.

“The club started with four women and grew from there,” Vorwald said.

The club members, who now number around 18, meet once a month. Their October gathering doubled as a 30th anniversary celebration.

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However, it has not always been easy.

“That first club kind of failed, but then I met Anita VanDenBergh and she said ‘let’s do it again. And here we are,” Vorwald said.

VanDenBergh, who moved to the United States 35 years ago from the Netherlands, “is still reading something. When I met Ruth, I said “let’s start reading books together”.

The club’s purpose continues to be a driving force behind the group: “You can meet your neighbors and have that camaraderie,” Vorwald explained. “We all have families, jobs, a husband and kids and you can share it all – plus wine, food and our love of books.”

Patty Fullin, a new member who owned a children’s bookstore a few years ago, “had heard of this club and had always wanted to join. They read such beautiful literature.

She also appreciates the diversity of opinions expressed at the meetings.

“We’re not all of one mind,” she said, “which leads to some wonderful discussions.”

A deeper understanding

Rita Chiappetta joined the club a year ago, after coming as a guest.

“I like how club members really immerse themselves in the books. They put in the time and effort and prepared for the meetings,” she said. “I also research the book and discussion questions, which adds so much depth to the book.

“And,” she added, “I really fell in love with everyone in the club.”

When she joined the club in 2008, Terri Wruck “didn’t think she could finish a book a month while working full time and being active in the community. Today, while still working and still active in the community, I belong to three book clubs and read for each, including additional picks by myself. So everyone can find time to read.

While Wruck says her life “is enriched by books,” sharing that love with others adds “a much deeper understanding of a book when we discuss it. There is some critical thinking that takes place during discussions, which is very good for the brain.

During these book discussions, she added, “sometimes the volume increases when we make our points, but whether it’s a serious discussion or a lively chatter, our members are engaged”.

Pat Sunday is a relatively new member of the club – having joined 12 years ago – but she has lived in the Carol Beach area “probably the longest of all here, 45 years. Now that I’ve joined, we’ve really bonded, and it’s wonderful to be in a group where we respect each other’s opinions.

A bonus from the club, she added, “is that I got to know so many people in my neighborhood”.

Sherry Gourley has a book club rule: she always finishes the book.

“The author put in the time and effort to write the book, so I feel I owe it to that person to finish it,” she said.

To stay together

COVID-19, which halted all gatherings for several months, closed the book on many such groups.

But not the Carol Beach Book Club.

“Even during COVID, we haven’t missed a lap,” Wruck said. “We continued to meet – first virtually, then at an appropriate distance outside when the weather permitted.”

Joanie Brookhouse added with a laugh, “We were able to meet via Zoom as soon as we had someone who knew how to Zoom.”

Brookhouse — who says “I love our book club” — especially appreciates author visits. While traveling in Alaska, she met author Art Davidson, whose book was on display in the Denali National Park store “and we got to talk to him on the phone during our discussion about his book, ‘Minus 48 Degrees: First Winter Ascent of Mount McKinley,” Brookhouse said.

The club also visited the late local author Florence Parry Heide and other writers, including Vorwald’s niece.

beyond the books

Although much of what happens in a book club happens between the pages of a story, the social aspect is what keeps members coming back year after year.

“Books are the reason we come together,” Wruck said, “but the friendships that develop are the catalyst for our longevity. It allows us to invite newcomers and make new friends.

The club also includes family members beyond the club itself.

“Once or twice a year we include our plus-ones, so the social aspect has increased,” Wruck said. “The spouses have actually formed their own ‘No Book Book Club’ which meets at a restaurant on the same date as our club, strictly for camaraderie.”

Share the love

At the heart of the Carol Beach Book Club—in addition to food, wine, excursions, laughter—is a love of reading.

“Reading a book is a chance to learn about other lives and other cultures,” Gourley said. “I like historical fiction and I feel like I learn something by reading.” (She also jokes that “my knees are bad and when it’s cold and I can’t go out so much, I can settle in with a good book.”)

“Readers are leaders,” said Carole Crawford. “I like discovering other cultures and places where I may not have been. Reading also forces you to use your imagination, which is wonderful.

By reading “really amazing books,” Vorwald said, “we learned so much about history and geography and people from all over the world.”

Club members “share books but also have a little Carol Beach library to give them away when they’re done,” Wruck said. “Anyone can take these books and read them.”

Look forward

As the club enters its next 30 years, its members see no end in sight.

“Over the years we’ve read some really great books and had some really great discussions,” VanDenBergh said. “We love seeing each other and we miss it when we don’t.”

Vorwald, who has achieved his goal of meeting his neighbors, looks forward to many years of friendship and reading.

“We get new people all the time,” she said. “People are moving away and we’re refreshing the club with new members coming in. I could see us in our 90s still together.

“I love books and I love our book club.”

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