BY PAUL BICKLEY
In spring 2016, Jennifer Borland, an avid reader and a volunteer researcher at the Monroe County History Center, faced a growing pile of books she was determined to read, so she suggested that the History Center start a book club. The way things turned out, Borland soon found herself the de facto leader of the HiStory Book Club (HBC), which started last June.
Book club members range in age from 30 to 70, and all have an interest in reading and discussing books with an American-history focus. Members select the books, which may be fiction or nonfiction. “Some people think nonfiction is dry, but it’s really a lot of stories, and nonfiction is just as much fun to talk about as fiction—if not more so,” Borland says.
Celebrating Indiana’s bicentennial, the group has discussed several books written by Hoosiers, including Herman B Wells’ memoir Being Lucky and Booth Tarkington’s novel The Magnificent Ambersons.
Before the discussions, Borland makes a brief presentation to provide authorial or historical background information. And she centers discussions around inclusive questions, such as “What did you learn about history from the book?” HBC member Rosemary Dever says Borland is “an especially well tuned-in leader. She whets our interest, and discussions are lively.”
For her part, Borland says she works to enliven book club meetings in a variety of ways. To sweeten participants’ ties with Emily Yellen’s Our Mothers’ War: American Women at Home and at the Front during World War II, Borland prepared war cake, a rationing-era concoction of lard, castor sugar, raisins, and spices. When the group discussed At Home with Ernie Pyle, the book’s editor, retired journalism professor Owen V. Johnson, joined the discussion.
Perhaps most important to Borland is that the club is a community of lifelong learners who contribute with their input during discussions. “You can read a book, but you’re never going to take it all in,” she says. “People with different perspectives fill in the gaps.”
The HiStory Book Club is free and open to everyone whether they have read the book or not. It meets the last Saturday of each month from 1–2:30 p.m. at the Monroe County History Center, 202 E. 6th St. Some discussions include adult content. Visit monroehistory.org/history-book-club for more information.