Love of reading creates legacy of great reads

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Palliser teacher started a book club now set to celebrate 20 years

A teacher’s passion for books has left a legacy in Lethbridge as she founded a book club set to celebrate 20 years later this month.

Barb Gibson, a Palliser Regional Schools’ teacher since 1994, was fresh out of university when she approached the Lethbridge Public Library with her idea for an inclusive book club.

Inspired by the novel “. . . And Ladies of the Club,” by Helen Hooven Santmyer, Gibson knew what she didn’t want the book club to be. The club portrayed in the novel was “a very exclusive, rather snooty book club from the 1800s, and I sure didn’t want a book club like that!” she says.

 “It wasn’t about the venue. It wasn’t about the hostess. It wasn’t about what was served. It wasn’t even about your husband or your children. It was about the books.”

Coincidentally, the library board been discussing starting a club, and the Definitely Not Plato Book Club was born.

The first meeting’s topic was “Have you read any good books lately.” Since then, the club has discussed nearly 200 books — fiction and non-fiction, little-known treasures and award-winning novels turned blockbuster films.

Gibson compares the book club to a child sent off to boarding school, who returns independent and strong. She left the club for eight years when her teaching career took her to schools in Milo and Arrowwood. Once back in the Lethbridge area, she was thrilled to find the club still going.

The Definitely Not Plato Book Club will celebrate 20 years with a special event from 7 to 9 p.m., March 29 in the Theatre Gallery of the Lethbridge Public Library Main Branch. A display of all the books the club has read and club members’ Top 10 will be revealed.

“That was a challenge,” she says. “We had to put that out to everybody and have them choose 10 books out of those almost 200 books and rate them. We’ve come up with a weighted list of our Top 10.”

Chapters has donated the Top 10 books to give away as part of the celebration.

The club has invited other book clubs to join the event to share their own book lists. Former chief librarian, Duncan Rand, who was involved in the club’s start up, and assistant librarian from that time, George Hall, will be among the guests. Local authors have also been invited.

The event, like the club itself, is open to anyone, whether they’ve participated in the club in the past or not.

Inclusiveness was one of Gibson’s goals for the club. By associating the club with the library, it was open to readers of all walks of life, whether they could afford to buy books or not.

“I love the sharing of ideas in a book club,” she says. “When you have people coming together and they’ve all read the same book, you can have eight, 10, 12 different points of view about that book. It just opens your eyes to seeing the book in a different way.”

The excitement generated by the book club has sometimes spilled over to her classrooms at Hutterite colony schools at Albion Ridge and Gold Ridge, both north of Picture Butte, where she’ll talk about the book she’s read.

“Having that experience of being in a book club and talking about a book in an informal manner, I can bring that to the kids. . .  ‘What did you like about that chapter?’ ‘What did that make you feel like?’ ‘Does that remind you of anything?’. . . It really gets kids on fire to read.”

The Definitely Not Plato Book Club meets Wednesday evenings monthly, from September through June. A July meeting is set aside for planning the 10 titles to be read the following year with members making recommendations. Club information, including the upcoming title, can be found in the Lethbridge Public Library Happening newsletter.

Gibson says occasionally she hasn’t been able to finish a book club choice, but often, through the club, she’s discovered amazing books. The different perspectives she hears in discussion have sometimes prompted her to re-read books.

“I’ve been introduced to books through the book club that I never would have read,” says Gibson, using Cormac McCarthy’s “All the Pretty Horses,” as one example. “As I read it, the further along I got into the book, the more I appreciated the fact he didn’t come out and say what he was feeling. He showed how he was feeling. It really helped me to appreciate that different point of view.

If you haven’t been part of a book club before, Gibson encourages giving it a try. The meetings are informal. The discussion is fluid. There is no script. Often the discussion begins simply with “What did you think of the book?” and if you choose just to listen, that’s OK.

“You share as you choose to share,” she says.

If you’re looking for some great books to read, here’s a list of all the books the club has read over the years.