Founded in 1993, the Salem Young Women’s Book Club actually began as the Salem Women’s Book Club. When one generation invited in the next, they added the descriptor. With an atypical format, they’re a well structured group, which contributes to a near quarter-century run. Current President Carol Buriak filled us in on how it all works.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: What’s the format of the Salem Young Women’s Book Club?
Carol Buriak: We read 16 books yearly, but we don’t read the same book at the same time. Rather, books are passed along throughout the year to members: they rotate among us. So counter to most book clubs’ purpose, we never formally discuss the books we’ve read. There will always be members who have not yet received the book in our rotation. Often at our meetings, however, small groups will discuss a book during the half-hour social before the meeting begins.
BCR: How do you choose the books initially?
CB: Our January meeting is dedicated to book selection for the next rotation. For years that meeting was held at Ram’s Head Bookstore where the owner or employees would present recommendations and speak about selections we may enjoy. Most of us would then purchase a book before leaving. We felt it important to support local businesses when possible. Once Ram’s Head closed, we tried holding the meeting at Barnes & Noble, but it wasn’t the same so we’ve been meeting in members’ homes for the selection process. Some years we have a knowledgable speaker make recommendations (such as librarians or college professors) and some years we simply reasearch online the best-seller lists or various sites for recommendations then make selections based on discussions of potentials during the meeting.
BCR: Interesting. The book clubs I’ve spoken with have said said that they’d like recommendations from other groups or perhaps to engage in a larger discussion across groups. It’s an enjoyable part of the process for many. Once the books are selected what happens?
CB: The February meeting then becomes the Book Covering Meeting. Among our rules, we prefer hard-cover books due to the wear and tear from being passed through 16 readers. We tape the passing schedule inside the front cover of each book and include an envelope inside the back cover. The envelope is simply an empty bank money envelope which serves as a fine-collector for members who forget to pass the book by the pass date. Members must pay $.50 for every day the book is late. The envelopes’ contents are collected at the January and February meetings and the proceeds pay for the plastic covers. The revenues are donated to various good deeds and charities.
BCR: Where do you meet?
CB: We meet in homes and the hostesses provide snacks and beverages. We split up the 16 members into eight two-person hostessing teams. We meet eight times in a calendar year and each month’s meeting is planned by a two-member team. Each year the teams are shifted to an earlier calendar month. For example; my team hosted May this year so next year my teammate and I know we’ll be hosting April’s meeting.
BCR: So, if you discuss the books informally during the pre-meeting time, what do you do during your meetings?
CB: Each hostess team procures a speaker or some type of program for the meeting. We’ve had some very impressive speakers over the years. But we’ve also had some creative alternatives. We’ve met at Hollins and Roanoke College to attend author presentations and we’ve attended a relevant movie, such as Slumdog Millionaire or Lady In Gold.
BCR: What are some of the other titles you’ve read?
CB: This year’s books included
- Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld,
- A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles,
- Moonglow by Michael Chabon,
- The Whistler by John Grisham,
- Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen,
- Truevine by Beth Macy,
- Commonwealth by Ann Patchett,
- The Summer Before The War by Helen Simonson,
- The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood and
- Dime Store by Lee Smith.
BCR: Do you have any traditions as part of the meetings or at the end of the year?
CB: Yes. Some months are dedicated to specific activities and the hostesses do not need to plan for a speaker. The December meeting is always a holiday pot-luck gathering at one of the hosting members’ homes. It is purely social time but we also discuss options for allocation of funds during this meeting.
BCR: Are there any founding members still a part of the group?
CB: There remain four members original to the club from its 1993 formation.
BCR: And how about your leadership structure?
CB: We found it helpful to have to have one person who guides this along, and it’s a pretty longstanding commitment. One of the founding members served as president for 17 years before I was “persuaded” to step in as the second president. But it’s a pleasure. It’s a good group of women.
BCR: It sounds like it. Congratulations on the longevity of your group, and thanks for letting us profile the Salem Young Women’s Book Club.★