We're a group of friends that has been meeting to discuss books over a tasty meal for many years. We developed this website for internal communication; later we realized that others might be interested in what we were reading, and the web resources we had located to support our book discussions. If you really want to know more about the group, you can read Ellie's letter to the magazine writer who professed an interest in how our group works (below). And sorry to be blunt, but we're not soliciting new members.
ELLIE'S ATTEMPT TO EXPLAIN US (ca. 1997)
I'm so excited that you want to do an article on our book club. My husband, Hal started the book club in 1993. He initially invited mainly people that he worked with but he also invited an old high school friend of mine. When we first started, we were the only married couple and also the only ones with a kid so we always met at our house (so we didn't have to get a babysitter.) Over the years things have changed so that now almost everyone is married and all the new spouses belong and there's now 5 kids between us [ed. note: 10 kids now (5/2000)]. At each meeting we pick the next book, the date of the next meeting and pick the host for the next meeting. Right before the meeting the host will send out e-mail stating the theme. The host will make the entree and everyone else either picks or is assigned a dish keeping with the theme. We always laugh that we spend more time picking the book and the date than actually discussing the book.
Initially we did not pick the theme in keeping with the book but recently we have been doing that and its been quite fun. My favorite was when we read The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies and we had to bring foods with a filling or a secret ingredient. I made spanikopitas. Four out of the eleven of us are vegetarians so often the meals are vegetarian. Six out of the 11 of us profess to be good cooks. Eight out of the eleven of us work with computers, one person is an engineer, one is a magazine editor and one person is a doctor.
Tom is a web maniac and about a year ago he made up our web site. He and his wife Mallary set up and maintain the site and the links. Another member, Kirsten had been collecting and keeping a record of all our meetings, meals and hosts so they could be entered into the web site. Mallary, Mary, and June are the most well read and often are up to date on the New York Times Book Review so they are the ones that most often suggest the next book. Kevin and Bob rarely speak at the meetings but if they do its almost always a great comment. Mary always comments on any scenes with a sexual innuendo. We have a rule that if you haven't read the book you can't come to the dinner. Beth rarely reads the whole book but always comes anyway. Tony has slept through several dinners but he makes a wicked antipasto so he's always forgiven.
INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY
...[Reading] groups can also take on a life of their own. Some stay together as members change employers. That's the history of Mostly We Eat, a group started early in '93 by five AT&T employees in northern New Jersey.
The AT&T of those days is no more. But Mostly We Eat hasn't just survived - it's grown as members have married and brought in spouses. It now numbers 13.
Lucent Technologies' software engineer Mallary Saltzman, who has been with the group from the start, says her husband was a reluctant recruit. ''I sort of dragged him in kicking and screaming,'' she said. ''He loves it now.''
As the name implies, members of Mostly We Eat get together every two or three months over a meal tied to the theme of a book they're discussing. Recently they whipped up a country picnic for Jane Austen's ''Sense and Sensibility.''
The group sticks mostly to fiction. But it covers a wide range - from classics like Austen to current bestsellers like Charles Frazier's Civil War saga ''Cold Mountain.''
With its mix of men and women, Mostly We Eat has some interesting dialogue about the choice of texts, Saltzman says. ''We do have some dissension in the group. The men don't like to read so-called 'chick books,' '' fiction about and aimed at women, she said.
But ''Cold Mountain'' had something for everybody, she says, with its parallel stories of a soldier deserting the Confederate ranks and a woman crafting an independent life on the home front.
But a book doesn't have to be that well-written or well-liked for the group to enjoy it, she says. What counts is the discussion. Some of the worst books have provoked some of the best conversations, Saltzman says.
The group disliked Martha McPhee's first novel, ''Bright Angel Time.'' But members used it as springboard to talk about writers' first books and what tended to go wrong with them. ''And we had good food for that one, too,'' she said.
Food and friends aside, Saltzman was drawn to the reading group because it brought her back to something she liked doing in college: talking about books. That's a common theme in the world of book groups, where members tend to be college-educated adults. Members of Mostly We Eat range from 35 to 40.
...Some reading groups have even set up their own web sites, using them to share information on the next selection, offer directions to members' homes, and provide a member directory.
One of these sites reveals the secret to many successful reading groups: food. The site's name says it all: Mostly, We Eat. If the discussion takes a dull turn, at least there's food. The site includes a history of the book club, listing what books were read on what date -- and what food was consumed (Japanese food for "Snow Falling on Cedars," for instance).
...There's even a book group that calls itself Mostly We Eat. They've been meeting every two or three months since 1993. They pick a book to read and a food theme to go with it. For example, recently they read Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain and, naturally, the food theme was Southern. Another time they read a mystery novel, and the cuisine was foods with a filling or secret ingredient.
Everyone who comes to the meeting must bring a dish that fits the theme. "We have a rule that if you haven't read the book, you can't come to the dinner," explains Elizabeth Rose, founding member. "But," she adds, "[one group member] rarely reads the whole book and always comes anyway. And [another] has slept through several dinners, but he makes a wicked antipasto so he's always forgiven."