Bound to Inspire

At 10 a.m. on Saturday, a crowd gathers on the steps of The San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park, waiting for the doors to open. Some people carry a fat book, including a woman who has stuffed about 10 bookmarks among the pages. 

Inside, the crowd disperses, visitors walking into one gallery or another. But the “book peo-ple” head below ground, down a hallway and into the museum’s boardroom. Bagels and coffee sit on a table to the right. A large ring of chairs to the left begins to fill. 

Welcome to a gathering of the Art of Reading Book Club.

During the club’s quarterly meeting, docents Ann Wachtler and Diane Carlos lead a discus-sion on the selected fiction or nonfiction book and then an exhibition tour that relates to the book.
“The first meeting was held Aug. 25, 2012,” says Chacho Herman, the museum’s man-ager of earned income, who is in charge of the museum store and who organized the book club to provide another benefit for museum members (non-members pay $12 to participate in the club). “It also is a way to let people know about the books we carry in the store and generate income. All the profits from the store go right back into supporting exhibitions and educational programs.”

On this morning, Ann and Diane begin with their impres-sions and then ask the group members their thoughts on various elements of Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See. Of the 29 attendees, four are men and four are not mu-seum members. The woman with multiple bookmarks just finished the book the preceding evening. Another hasn’t quite finished it. Others read it so long ago that they can’t recall specific characters’ names. About half the attendees participate verbally in the dis-cussion; but everyone seems involved, evidenced by the collective “That’s right” and nodding heads.

Bobbie Thyfault of Bankers Hill has attended four or five times.
“It’s a nice mix of people — men and women from all walks of life,” she says. “They are well traveled, interested in the arts and interested in reading.

“The next book we are read-ing [David McCullough’s The Greater Journey] has been sitting on my bookshelf for two years, so I am happy I am going to get to it. Other books have been ones I probably wouldn’t have read but enjoyed.

“It’s always interesting to see what other people get out of a book that I didn’t pick up on. That’s one of the things I love about the club,” she concludes.

Carol Dillon of Point Loma, who participates in another book club of 18 members that meets every six weeks, came to the museum’s meeting for the first time and joined in the discussion of All the Light We Cannot See. “Our book club loved it,” she says. “When I read about this event in the museum brochure, I told my friends, ‘We should go.’” (Two ladies came with her.)
Carol has known the mem-bers of her home-based book club for 20 to 30 years.
“This is a more formal situation,” she says. “But I feel that the docents are highly qualified leaders. This is a different interaction.”
“I love people giving their ideas and how one idea kicks off another one so that you go places you didn’t go on your own,” Ann says.

In selecting books, Chacho explains, “I reach out to our docent core, of which Ann and Diane are a part, and the curatorial team and the store staff. We try to make the book correlate with what’s going on in the museum at the time.”

Notification about the book club is printed in the museum’s membership magazine, sent in an e-newsletter and posted on the museum’s website calendar. The next meeting of the book club is Aug. 13, during which the group will discuss Laura Snyder’s Eye of the Beholder.

“We typically get between 30 and 35 attendees,” Chacho says. “When I started this, I talked to other museums that have book clubs. Most of them said they got around seven to 10 attendees. The top would be 15, and we are doubling that, which is quite nice, because people think San Diego is not a book-reading town.” 

Categories: Lifestyles