It’s not your ordinary book club. This all-women book club has a long history, having begun around 1980, says Ginny Meade, who joined in mid-’81. “It’s an amazing group of women from all walks of life. It all started because of our love of books and reading.”
When Ginny joined, she said, an artist, an attorney and a writer were the “ring leaders.” One by one, new members drifted in by the invitation of other members, including several doctors.
“I had put off joining because I thought everybody else was smarter than me,” said Ginny. Unduly insecure about her membership in the group, Ginny became the club’s “faithful scribe,” sending out email invitations for each meeting.
As a Kaimukī community leader, it was a natural evolution. And early on, she realized that she had a deep connection with this eclectic group.
This intrepid group of accomplished women possesses important commonalities: a voracious intellectual appetite and a willingness to tackle the tough topics. At the end of the day, that was enough to sustain the group for over 40 years.
There were rules that determined who could join the Women’s Literary Society of Greater Honolulu (WLSOGH) was growing at such a pace that it would soon overflow the host’s home.
“We were uppity back then,” Ginny laughs. “So we made rules. First, you were allowed to invite a guest only once a month. The group would decide whether or not to accept the guest, giving the invitee the option to join if they liked us, too.”
The meetings had a “semi-formal” structure. The person who suggested reading the book was usually the one to lead the discussion, posing discussion questions about the book.
“The interesting thing is that the discussions weren’t strictly about the book,” says Ginny. “They became more about our feelings that arose from reading it. Most often, our discussions became really wide-ranging and comprehensive, reaching far beyond the contents of the book.”
The group would also invite authors to their meetings, including the likes of former Honolulu Advertiser Publisher Thurston Twigg-Smith, author of “Hawaiian Sovereignty. Do the Facts Matter?” Authors from near and far were also invited, some traveling from the mainland to appear at this meeting of discerning women.
But their appetites were not for the written word and intellectual discourse alone. The dining table was covered with culinary delights of all kinds, wine and fizzy beverages. The ambiance opened opinions, loosened lips and sparked creativity.
Pūpū evolved into dinner, for a time, themed to the book. A book by Dostoevsky prompted the host to offer borscht. A meeting discussing “A Brief History of Time” featured Chinese food, as they ascertained “that is what geeks eat.”
Well really, sustenance was necessary; the club’s book list was not for the faint of heart. More often than not, they would “go deep.”
Titles on the 2022 list include “The Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel” and “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.” “They’re all across the board. That’s how we roll.”
“We didn’t always agree on the books and we didn’t mince words,” says Ginny. “One meeting started with the opening comment, ‘I hated this book!’ It went on to be one of the longest meetings and most deeply discussed books we ever read. So we realized we didn’t need to agree for a meeting to be successful.”
This discovery lead them to “The Molly Principle.” First, calculate how many years you have left. Then calculate how many books you want to read. Then, if you pick up a book and you don’t like it, it’s ok to put it back down. Members could invoke The Molly Principle at any meeting, excusing them from reading or discussing the book of the month. They could still attend the meeting. The group has recently switched their focus to books about World War II and South Africa.
The book list is always decided at the annual retreat. The book nomination and voting ritual was a serious, long-weekend affair, often accompanied by music, partying, hot-tubbing, beach walking, tap dancing and consumption of a cold creamy, blender cocktail with an X-rated name. That’s when the tap dancing ensues…
But it is not all about unbridled drinking, dancing and merriment. A retreat that included a hike on Molokai inspired Ginny to pursue a degree in horticulture. “It has been quite a life-changer for most of us,” Ginny says about the group.
Originally, many joined the club because it was simply “time to get back to reading” after families were raised and careers ended. Although their initial intention was to indulge in food for thought with like-minded ladies, by drilling even deeper than the topics offered in their books, the club facilitated lifelong bonds.
“There’s about 40 of us who are still involved,” said Ginny. About half are local and the rest are on the mainland — most, former islanders.
“It’s hard to put a label on what our book club was ever about,” says Ginny. “It’s a bit of everything. When we began, we were all in our 40s. Now we are in our 80s. We have become grandmas and widows and have seen a lot of change.”
“But for as long as I can remember, we began our meetings by chatting about what each person has been doing in the last month,” says Ginny. “Eventually, someone says, ‘Lets get to the book.’”
“Through the years, we became a close group of dear friends and confidants that has not only endured, but grown stronger and deeper. When life hands us tragedies and challenges, we are always and faithfully there to support each other. So that’s the most valuable aspect of this club — total support among 40 women over 40 years.”
“It’s way beyond what’s between the covers of a book,” Ginny says. “We’re not just analyzing a book; we are analyzing everything in life.”