Saturday, November 25, 2023

The Remainders: A Gentlemen’s Book Club of Calhoun

The backstory to this club comes from Fred Valentine who – in 2023, when the club was in its eighth year – put it into historical focus. “When I had the idea to try to form a book club,” he said, “I knew little about book clubs, although my wife Katie belonged to groups that gathered in private homes to discuss a single book, monthly.”

 “I had experienced the loss (through death) of several close friends and felt a need for such socialization as they had provided me,” he continued. “So, without a lot of ‘design’ principles, I emailed 25 friends from different paths of life. They were all men because I was looking for male friendship. I outlined what I thought the club might be like, and 23 signed on.”

 Then as now, members represented such professions as law, medicine, engineering, commerce, journalism, and education. The commonalties among members are loves of books and reading.

 Fred didn’t think discussing one book per month made a lot of sense. Instead, he came up with a plan in which members discussed books from a single genre at each meeting. This would generate diversity at meetings and increase interest in participation. Gordon Brown assisted greatly in the early days, developing “ground rules” to give the club structure.

 Among the early members, Bill Taylor became the club’s “Resident Scholar.” In that role, he keeps a record of books that members have reported on; in this way, he prevents more than one report on a particular book. Also, he compiles commentaries from each month’s presenters into a club newsletter.

 According to the Oxford Canadian Dictionary, the word “remainders” has two meanings relevant to this club: “remaining persons or things,” and “copies of a book left over when it is unsold.” Fred chose the name, however, because it seemed applicable to retirees exploring the final arcs in the cycle of life. The club’s reputation spread quickly, and many wanted to join. The club then began devising admission criteria.

 Men-only book clubs are unusual, but women-only reading groups are not. Indeed, the oldest functioning book club in Canada is The Calgary Women’s Literary Club, which predates the First World War. Congratulations, ladies!

There is an important difference between our club and those which choose a single book for all members to read. The club executive chooses genres for discussion, and near yearend sends members a list for the upcoming year. To illustrate from the 2024 lineup, three monthly topics are “The Future,” “Gender,” and “Heroes and Villains.” When not enough members want to report on a month’s genre, a few members close the gap with books they would like to present under the rubric “Reader’s Choice.”

 All presenters then prepare brief summaries explaining their choices. These writeups are compiled into a monthly email newsletter for members. At meetings, the members – never more than our membership limit of 25 – attend and become involved in the discussion.

 Meetings begin at 1:15 in the afternoon on the last Monday of every month but December.

Why is December omitted? Because the last week of that month is one of parties, family visits, travel and (of course) visits from Santa Claus. To accommodate those realities, in mid-December we get together for lunch at the Calgary Golf and Country Club. Our tradition has become one in which we each receive a nicely wrapped book from Santa, who attends this get-together in person.

Changing times and changing places Over our brief history, we have changed our meeting place three times, and will change again in January.At our inaugural meeting on March 28th, 2016, we met at the Calhoun Public Library on 14th Street S.W.

 When the COVID pandemic hit, social gatherings became dangerous, and many public facilities were closed to the public. What to do? We went online, with meetings taking place through the magic of ZOOM. For two years, while vaccinations were being developed, we held well-attended online meetings. Once the pandemic was under control, we moved our meetings again – this time, to a meeting area belonging to the Elbow Park Residents Association in southwest Calgary.

 At this excellent facility, our meetings include a coffee-and-cupcake break amid several hours of intellectual stimulation and camaraderie. These get-togethers are among our favourite afternoons. However, in January 2024 we will move to an excellent facility at a nearby Anglican Church.

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