Move Over Oprah — North Andover Book Club Celebrates 50 Years Of Reading

Photo: Courtesy of Mel Jurgen

NORTH ANDOVER (WBZ NewsRadio) — There’s a book club in North Andover that has leather-bound bragging rights. For half a century, the women of the North Andover Book Club have been meeting and reading; that’s a lifetime of great books and great friendships.

Over piping hot tea in china cups at the North Andover Country Club, where the women gathered to celebrate the book club’s 50th anniversary, Margaret “Mel” Jurgen shared her memories with WBZ NewsRadio's Laurie Kirby, as well as a personal history she wrote about the book club:

It was a dark and stormy night, (with apologies to Bulwer-Lytton). Actually no one remembers the weather for the first Book Club Meeting, but the date was the second Thursday of November 1971. The suggestion for forming a book club had come from Carolyn Ehrman. One Fall afternoon, Mel Jurgen was helping Carolyn tack a quilt that Carolyn had made for her daughter, Jenny. While stitching, they discussed books that they were currently reading. Both having been English majors in college, it was a natural subject. Carolyn mentioned a book club that she had belonged to in Connecticut, where she had lived prior to moving to Andover.
Mel was intrigued. They decided to form a book club in Andover, following the Connecticut model. They needed twenty members for each month's meeting. They would meet 10 months of the year, not July and August. Each month, one member would volunteer to host the group, and one would volunteer to lead the discussion. They decided to ask nine friends each, who also enjoyed reading, to join them. Except for Carolyn, none of the original members had ever belonged to a book club. The hostesses would provide a home setting and refreshments and the discussion leaders would research information about the book and author and provide critical reviews to use as a springboard for discussion. This was in the "old days," pre-Google and pre-Wikipedia. It meant a trip to the Library.

Photo: Courtesy of Mel Jurgen

Mel said the book club was about "the camaraderie" and the "sisterhood."

Through the decades, the books were consumed as voraciously as the hot tea, sweet nibbles, and the occasional glass of red wine. The format for choosing books to read progressed from random proposals by individual members, to selection by committee, often grouped by themes, such as "Gilded Age" literature, to "Immigration" to "Anti-War" to "Books We Enjoy.”

As Mel writes, “Despite the vagaries of New England weather, very few meetings have been postponed, but none have ever been cancelled. That is until March of 2020.”

The impact of Coronavirus restrictions closed the book on the book club for three long months. Enter ZOOM! Despite the learning curve for some, the virtual book club meeting had its benefits.

“You only had to pour one glass of wine for yourself, not for the whole group. You don’t have to bake anything fancy because you’re the one nibbling the Chips-a-Hoy,” Mel laughed. “I think what it demonstrates is our adaptability.”

But, Mel said there was one thing not even Steinbeck or Stegner could replace, and that’s a hug from a dear friend. "We were finally able to celebrate," she said, as they turned the page and began another chapter in North Andover.

WBZ NewsRadio's Laurie Kirby (@LaurieWBZ) reports

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