Book Reviews Not Enough for This Book Club
Strickland, Sandy, The Florida Times Union
Byline: SANDY STRICKLAND
No subject is taboo. It just has to be stimulating.
For almost 50 years, members of the Thursday Book Club have had lively discussions on such diverse topics as existentialism, radio soap opera, the Incas, Halley's comet and Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The club introduced the subject of AIDS when it was just beginning to surface in America and DNA when it was still in the research stages. One member was even inspired to visit Egypt.
Its members, all women, meet monthly from October to May. One year, a member does a program that's about an hour long and the next year, hosts the meeting and provides lunch.
"It's always been a brainy, smart, funny group," said Evelyn Nehl, an Avondale resident who joined in 1968. "The programs are always so surprising and different. The first time I ever heard the words, 'HMO' or 'PPO,' was when Joyce Mikulas gave a program about these entirely new ideas in insurance."
Despite the name, it's not a typical book club. It was founded in 1957 by Martha Graves, Dorothea Smith and Sue Duckett, members of the American Association of University Women who wanted to go beyond the book reviews offered by that organization.
"We wanted to form a study group to do research-type papers on subjects of each member's choice," said Smith, who lives in Empire Point on the Southside.
They set membership at 16. In the club's minutes, Graves, then a young mother, wrote that she longed for intellectual stimulation.
Early on, the club got a baptism by fire when Duckett gave a program on existentialism based on Colin Wilson's 1956 best-seller, The Outsider. The title character challenged cultural values and created his own set of rules.
The minutes reveal that "This controversial presentation had everybody's head swimming with new ideas and a new word, 'existentialist.' It separated the men from the boys. One member said she didn't know if she wanted to stay in a group like that."
After several deep-thought programs, members welcomed a lighter one, Smith said. The subject? "Take Time to Smell the Daisies." Books may or may not be a jumping-off point.
"You have the freedom to do a book if it's meant a lot to you," said Eleanor King, an Avondale resident who joined in 1959. "Recently, I did a program on 'Language and Me.' It had to do with dialects, and I used three books as resources."
King, who earned a degree from the University of North Florida in 1994 at age 79, said the wide variety of offerings have kept her interest piqued over the decades. …