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Take a Page From the Book Club: NCG Members Sharing a Love of Literature

Monday, March 16, 2015

Not many people know that NCG has a book club. It’s been around since 1987 and its die-hard members meet 4-5 times a year for thoughtful and stimulating conversations about their latest reading assignment.

Why They Participate

Who better to talk about the NCG book club than the members themselves? I asked the book club about their favorite book and their reason for participating. Here’s what they had to say.

In Their Own Words

Regan Douglass | Communications Officer | College Futures Foundation

I've been participating in the book club for more than two years. (During that time, I have held positions at two different NCG member organizations.)

I especially enjoyed reading Major Barbara, a satirical play by George Bernard Shaw. In turns thought-provoking, entertaining, and exasperating, the play explores many facets of philanthropy and prompts the reader to look closely at how ethics, morals, and action do or don’t align in a class-based and deeply classist society. “Translating” the piece to our time and place wasn’t hard. The text sparked a rich conversation about the military-industrial complex, patronage and patriarchy, and how grantmakers’ understanding and openness regarding responsibility, accountability, and arrogance have shifted over the years.

The group discussions are thoughtfully facilitated and the members are welcoming. I keep coming back because I appreciate the opportunity to meet and form relationships with other NCG members while exploring issues relevant to my work through the lens of good literature. 

Stan Hutton | Senior Program Officer | Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation
I've been participating in the group for ten years plus—Can't remember how long exactly. I can't say I have a favorite book (maybe it's always the last one we read.)

Books read by group are suggested by group members, and I have been introduced to many international authors, writers from Africa, Asia and South America that were new to me. The Makioka Sisters, by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, for instance, tells the story of an affluent Japanese family during the years leading up to Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

We've also looked into lesser-known works by North American and European writers that offer a new perspective on Western Literature. Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, for example, describes the English class system during the industrial revolution in a Northern England mill town.

Jim Meyers is a great book group leader. Jim works as a therapist but has a Ph.D. in English from Berkeley. His guiding questions about themes, characters, and setting always promote good discussion about the work on hand.

Prudy Kohler | former NCG Arts Loan Fund co-chair
I've been in the book group for at least 15 years (maybe 17?). It seems to me that I enjoy just about EVERY book we read: I'm loving the current one (Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase). I'm also a fan of short stories (not everyone is), and I really liked the collection of Alice Munro stories we read in the last year. I also recall some excellent discussions around works by Eudora Welty and Wallace Stegner. 

For me, the value of participating in the group is the interaction with people who are seriously engaged with the readings and who bring to them so many rich experiences from their own lives. It never seems to me that there is any hesitation among group members about speaking their minds about the readings and about how they personally relate to them.  Our facilitator, Jim Meyers, is excellent and certainly challenges us with questions, insights, and other additions to our discussions. Others in the group are far more well-read than I am, so I benefit from their fine insights.

The group is also important to me because it encourages me to read books that I would not necessarily choose, or even know about. What's not to like about a group that combines intelligent commentary from the leader and the members with powerful choices of reading material?

On a highly personal note, the past couple of years have brought considerable sadness/tragedy to my own life (I lost my husband in a bicycle accident, and I was the victim of a hit and run accident [resulting in two broken legs] this past fall). The members of the book group were some of the first people to contact me and offer assistance and healing thoughts.

Marisela Orta | Knowledge and Communications Manager | Northern California Grantmakers
I’ve been with NCG now for 10 years and I joined the book club early on as a way to give myself a bit of structure when it came to reading fiction. I’m so glad I did. Participating gave me a chance to get to know some of our members in a much more personal and deeper way—connecting over our love of literature.

My favorite book hands down was The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. I LOVED that book—it was complex, layered, filled with humor and history. And if it wasn’t for the book club that novel might still be on my “must-read” list.

My participation has been spotty over the past few years as my responsibilities have increased here at NCG, but I always think about trying to read the next book because I miss the conversations. The book club is filled with some really thoughtful and intelligent individuals. So as you can imagine the conversations are really interesting.

Frances Phillips | Arts & Creative Work Fund Program Director |Walter and Elisa Haas Fund
I started participating soon after I arrived at the Walter & Elise Haas Fund. Back then, we hosted the book club at our office and several of us were part of it.

I have liked many of the books, but one of the favorites that come to mind right now is Bleak House by Charles Dickens because it sparked a funny, but wise conversation about replication and sustainability.

For me the greater value may come from reading books that I otherwise would not have picked up on my own (for example, in recent years we read a cluster of books by African writers and then a cluster by Asian writers). What I like best is the opportunity to talk to colleagues about content that is adjacent to my work in philanthropy. Nearly any novel tackles content about family, community, money, class, or cultural difference; and the conversations about the books reflect on those themes of daily work. And I like the company of the other members: more would be merrier.

Join In

All NCG members are invited to participate in the book club meetings. These brown bag lunches are held at the NCG office. And even though the official start time is 12noon, the conversation usually starts around 12:30 pm when all the members arrive.

The next NCG book club meeting April 2nd featuring a discussion of A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.