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Ann Cannon: A book club story with a happy ending

Published May 18, 2017 11:22 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Back when we were both (a lot) younger, I used to watch my mom get ready to attend her book club, Etienne.

She'd read the assigned book, of course, because it never would have occurred to her NOT to read the assigned book from cover to cover before attending her meeting. She didn't believe in merely dating the books, i.e. reading 30 pages and then saying, "Hey thanks for the laughs, but we're done here, so delete my number from your contacts list and don't call again."

No. My mom went in for commitment big time. She married those books. Even the ones she didn't like.

Here's another thing I noticed about my mom whenever she went to an Etienne meeting. She looked like the purest form of dynamite, dynamite distilled — the way women of her generation did whenever they went out in heels, trailing subtle clouds of L'air Du Temps by Nina Ricci.

Together, Mom and the women in the club would listen to a well-prepared presentation, discuss the book, enjoy a light lunch and come home happy.

She still comes home happy, because the book club, at 60 years of age, is still going strong.

I think this is remarkable. As a sometime bookseller, I am struck by how difficult it can be to get a book group off the ground — and to keep it aloft once it does take off.

I decided to ask the club's founder, Dawn Baker Brimley, to share her hints for keeping a club grounded and sound. But first, this: In retrospect it's not surprising that Brimley, a longtime resident of Provo, would form a book club. She's a natural-born word-lover who has published poetry in Dialogue, Sunstone and Segullah, as well as two volumes of her poems — "The Right Star" and "Waking Moments." She was 23 years old when she decided to form Etienne. She'd relished her experience as a student at BYU. "I loved every moment there, loved every class," she says. As the stay-at-home mother of two very young children and with a husband working on a doctorate, Brimley still yearned to learn more. And, she realized, she was lonely. For books. For smart conversation. For connection.

Ergo, Etienne.

Of course there's no one right way to form and run a book club. But since this book club has been around for six decades, I asked Brimley to share her hints for helping a club to survive and thrive. She offered these seven suggestions:

Book clubs work when you have members who …

1. "Love ideas, thoughts and artistry. And carefully chosen books."

2. "Welcome diversity in great books and in great people."

3. "Read! Present! Discuss! Contribute!"

4. "Learn to be friends and feel loyalty."

5. Are willing to "work. It's necessary." (Brimley's daughter Lisa Brimley Clark, who watched her mother's involvement in Etienne throughout the years and runs her own book club now, was even more emphatic on this subject. She maintains you need people who are willing to "work their butts off" when necessary.)

6. "Carefully create by-laws and forget about them. First things first." In other words, by-laws should lend structure to an organization — not strangle it.

7. "Be endlessly grateful for the comparative freedom we have to read and think, agree or disagree, respect differences, and still experience a certain thrill when a book someone has declared worthy is placed in our hands."

The thrill is still there for Etienne club members. Happy 60th!

Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com or facebook.com/anncannontrib.






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