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Prime Time: Book clubs good for soul, mind, even palate

Oprah had one. With her help, several folks became millionaires.

The public library has them in bags. MPR's Kerri Miller had one. Mine includes both men and women.

We're talking book clubs here, and in this town there are dozens. If you're a reader you may well have found others who share your enthusiasm, and food and friendship as well. I highly recommend the book club. For the soul and the mind and yes, for the palate.

My enthusiasm for book clubs was fueled by a recent meeting where eight people sat around in a comfortable living room, after appetizers and dinner, and shared our observations about "Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter" by Mario Vargas Llosa. Some readers lapped up every word and made wry and thoughtful observations. Others were less enthusiastic. One admitted he couldn't make it to the last page. But effort counts in our book club, and most of the time we all read every book.

I, however, have exercised my prerogative as the oldest person in the room to occasionally declare a book impossible for me to read, after giving it a 30-page try. That's a privilege of age. And my basic cranky streak. I don't recommend it. More than one member of our club has read every word of every book, like it or not, plowing through. I admire that.

What you need to get a book club going is one enthusiastic person who will round up others of similar mind. Most of the clubs I've heard about in Bemidji are women's groups, but there may well be guys who dive into detective novels or classics or best sellers as well. Our book club started back in 1997 when we were in our 30's, 40's 50's and 60's, each decade represented by a couple. We've been through a lot together. That includes both books - mostly novels -and life experiences as well. We've delighted in the arrival of children and grandchildren, and together we sorrowed over the death of my dear Jim.

One member has been sidelined by a serious debilitating accident. Another sawed off the top half of his thumb with a table saw while building furniture. He's OK now. We know about one another's migraine headaches, food allergies, and challenges with aging parents. Because of our declining numbers - the serious accident and Jim's death--we've added a new couple. But not until after extensive deliberation. It didn't occur to us that this new couple might not like us. Fortunately, they do.

And we think that they're OK that we are huggers. The at-the-door greeting and the last goodbye is done with a round of hugging. The newbies also seem to be OK with how we rotate food assignments. The evening's hosts provide the main dish and wine. We don't talk about the book until after we've eaten. And the discussion ends when dessert comes out.

Strawberry shortcake. Lemon meringue pie. We have two women in the club who make their own crusts! Chocolate and caramel sundaes. Birthday cake, homemade, with a mountain of frosting. Now, you can see why I love book club, can't you? And oh, the books.

Since our book club started, the world has gone from books in print to downloads on Nooks and Kindles. I switch back and forth from my Nook to print. I like print better, and used books from Amazon are so cheap. Our next book is "Solar" by Ian McEwan. I've got underlining and squiggly lines in the margins throughout. Now, I'd give my right arm to be able to write a single sentence like many that McEwan tosses off with such ease. Or maybe not. Maybe the guy struggles as he writes. I admire him mightily, either way.

Now I'll excuse myself to return to "Solar," and my recipes for appetizers. Both are my next book club assignments. What a blessing to have these people, this food, and these books in my life.