This Maine book club has met for 46 years

Despite distance and life events, a book club in Lebanon, Maine, has been meeting nearly every month for 46 years.

LEBANON, MAINE, Maine — For seven women, a monthly meeting to discuss books became a lifeline. Their book club has been gathering nearly every month for 46 years, reading close to 500 books.

On a rainy day in Lebanon, Prospect Hill Winery was closed for a private party. Owner Anita Carle poured the wine, laid out a spread of food, and prepared to discuss the book she chose for this month’s book club.

“We started in April 1976,” Becky Beal said. “We have become such good friends, but we’re not in-your-face kind of friends. We see each other once a month, and we email in between. People moved away, and we still make an effort to come back. “

“The hostess for the month chooses the book, which we’re finding is quite unique for a book group,” Bev Olean said. “And that to me is what has made this book group special because we read such a variety of books, we don’t all agree, ‘Oh let’s read this because we’ll all like it.'”

The ladies agree that it’s more interesting when they don’t agree on a book. It makes for more lively conversation.

“I know I’ve read books that I would’ve never picked up. Sometimes I thought, ‘This is an amazing book,’ and other times I thought, ‘Okay now I know why I didn’t read it,'” Carle said. “But it’s nice to have that chance to do that because normally you would just pick something that sounds good to you.”

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“I made them read a 600-page book on Lyme disease,” Sue Whitely said.

The ladies laughed. “Was it not helpful?” Whitely asked.

“Yes, it actually was,” Beal said, agreeing that sometimes the books turn out to mean so much to members, including her.

“When we were first meeting, we read a book on being a widow, and none of us would suspect that but then a few years later I became a widow at 29 and I had no idea how to deal with it,” Beal said. “And that book really was kind of a guide. It told me a lot of the things that I would encounter.”

Those are the moments in between the wine, the discussion, and the laughter that have only solidified the friendships formed through this book club.

“[My husband] was in Boston at Deaconess Hospital, and I would go down and spend the night down there,” she said. “[The book club ladies] would take care of my daughter for me and when I got back I’d pick her up and spend the day with her and then I’d go back down for another overnight,” Beal said. “It was just a really hard time. And I remember after he died having some nights when I just was out of control because it was just not my thinkable future. I remember calling Bev at 2 in the morning, and she let me come up and sleep on her couch so I wasn’t alone.”

“I had forgotten about that,” Olean said.

“Oh, I didn’t forget. You know, it’s things like that,” Beal said as she smiled at Olean. “It was a hard time and I wasn’t prepared for it.”

“They helped me out at my husband’s funeral,” Betsey Clark added. “Afterwards, I was going to sneak out and get things ready at my house, and when I got there everything was done. That was kind of neat.”

“It’s been really supportive and helpful to share our experiences because we’ve all been through many of the same things,” Sher Jameson said.

Through deaths and births, major moments in history, the ladies even shared in the loss of one founding member of the book club.

“I think we have to mention Nancy,” Whitely said. “She passed away two years ago. And it’s a shame Nancy is n’t here because she would love it.”

In 46 years, the stories have grown, from page to life. The ladies have traveled together, attended talks with authors, they’ve shared many glasses of wine and rowdy conversation.

Are they surprised by how long their club has lasted?

“Oh, it shocks me,” Olean said. “I thought it was going to be a night out, get away from the little babies and let the husbands take over for a while, and it’s become very important in all our lives.”

In the early days, book club could last until 2 am

“We know each other’s strengths, and, you know, we appreciate everyone for who they are and what they bring to our lives,” Carle said.

It’s a bond that’s become so strong that the core group has had to turn friends away who wanted to join in.

“We have such a long history, and we trust each other implicitly,” Judy Churchard said. “We’ve shared a lot of private things, and it was really hard to think about somebody else coming in that we didn’t have that history with.”

“I think we had a good base of support in the beginning, and we all realized how it helped us all emotionally,” Churchard said. “It was a good escape. And then we just made it a priority.”

The ladies are already discussing how to celebrate their 50 years together in just a few more years.

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