Technology ‘transports’ special guest into living room for local book club

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The Outer Drive Court Book Club hosted author Steve Luxenberg via Skype at their Oct. 25 book club meeting. Pictured clockwise from left are Karen Iott, Ruth Dombrowski, Paula Patteuw, Kathy Betzoldt, June Macbeth, Denise Quarles, Denise’s sister Colleen visiting from out of town, and Nancy Hollenbach. Photo by Jim Lincoln.

Inspired by research on the Internet for her monthly book club, Kathy Betzoldt reached out and contacted the author of the book the group was reading for October. The result was a special guest for the group courtesy of modern technology. Direct interaction with an author during book club meetings is uncommon, but thanks to Skype, the neighborhood membership for the Outer Drive Court Book Club in Tecumseh expanded to include author Steve Luxenberg in Washington D.C.

Book clubs are one way to build community and connections between neighbors, friends or co-workers. Betzoldt was inspired to start the Outer Drive Court Book Club when she moved to the street 12 years ago. She believed a book club was a great way to get to know her neighbors. Since the group first started reading and meeting on a monthly basis, the women have created a strong friendship.

“We have built a real network of women,” Betzoldt said. “It’s a wonderful group.”

The bonds between the book club members have strengthened over the years, and the women get together on a regular basis outside the monthly book club meeting. While they are nurses, teachers and social workers during the day, at book club meetings they are neighbors, near or far, and friends. They all enjoy reading, but the relationships are what keep the women meeting every month.

“People don’t neighbor like they used to,” said Betzoldt. “You need to build your relationships.”

When it comes to the books selected by the group, any topic or author is a possibility. “We do a little of everything,” Betzoldt said. “We agree together on the books.”

Reading a wide variety of books and genres pushes group members to read outside their individual comfort zones, which Betzoldt believes is a great benefit. Members have to agree to read the whole book and prepare material for the discussion, which is preceded by a short social hour and followed by refreshments. This format keeps the book club portion of the meeting focused on the book itself.

During the month of October, the women broke free from the printed page after Betzoldt contacted the author of Annie’s Ghosts inviting him to their October 25 meeting. Steve Luxenberg agreed to participate via SKYPE and joined in the discussion about his book. Luxenberg grew up in Detroit, and as an adult discovered his mother had a sister who was a resident of Eloise Hospital in Detroit, a facility for the mentally ill and homeless, especially popular during the 1930s and 40s.

Several women from the group grew up in Detroit and remembered Eloise from their youth, which made the book of great interest. While Betzoldt was gathering book club material from, she came across Luxenberg’s blog and contacted him.

Luxenberg has worked as a newspaper editor and reporter for more than 30 years, the last 21 years for The Washington Post. Annie’s Ghosts was named a Michigan Notable Book for 2010 by the Library of Michigan, and it was listed as one of the Best Books of 2009 by The Washington Post.

The Outer Drive Court Book Club members prepared questions for Luxenberg and had an interesting SKYPE discussion. “He was very generous,” said Betzoldt. “He’s just real down-to-earth.”

The women from the book club equally charmed Luxenberg, who enjoyed participating in their discussion. “Writing is a solitary pursuit. That’s why I have so much fun joining a book club discussion — it’s a chance for me to hear what effect my words had on readers, to hear their thoughts and their questions, to have a conversation,” said Luxenberg.

“Even though I was visiting long distance, through the magic of the Internet and my computer’s video camera, I felt immediately at home with Kathy Betzoldt’s book club,” he added. “They welcomed me into their community, and made me feel a part of it, at least for the hour I spent with them. What a lively group!”

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