In the cozy Kings Park living room of Ann Lackowitz, 10 women have gathered to share their thoughts on the latest book they've elected to read. It's a familiar scene that has played out hundreds of times -- in this living room, the home of another member or a Long Island restaurant. And while the location may change, some of the faces are those of the devotees who started the Sunken Meadow Book Club 40 years ago.
Over time, their numbers have dwindled -- from 30 or more in earlier days to the core group that still meets once a month, from August through June.
There likely have been lively book discussions since the first tomes were written. But over the years, scholars were not the only ones who dissected the text of authors. For decades, libraries have established book clubs for avid readers, and smaller groups have cropped up in casual settings among friends.
Members of the Sunken Meadow Book Club can't say whether theirs is one of the oldest on Long Island, but this year, they celebrate four decades of getting together 11 months out of the year to discuss books.
Feels like family
As members arrive at Lackowitz's home, it feels as though a family gathering is about to take place. Quick hugs and kisses, coffee, cookies and news about the kids and grandkids are shared. There's a comfort level generally found among relatives. In fact, there are two sets of sisters present, but there are warm greetings for all.
Lisa Herskowitz, of Northport, has volunteered to lead the discussion of the group's latest selection, "The Light Between Oceans," a novel by M.L. Steadman. It's a story about a lighthouse keeper and his wife on a remote island, who are unable to have children. They find a boat washed ashore. On board is a dead man and a live baby; the lighthouse keeper's wife wants to keep the child.
Herskowitz's job as the Youth Service librarian at the Northport-East Northport Library makes her well-suited to lead the group today. "I run a parent/child book club at the library called 'Open for Discussion.' Children 4-to-6 years old," she explains. "I'm always reading novels for kids. With our group I know I'll get to read at least one adult book a month."
She has prepared a short biography of the author and has a series of questions ready to encourage everyone to participate in the dialogue. Herskowitz reads the bio and the discussion begins. All join in, offering what they liked, what they loved, how they would react if faced with the hard choice that the novel's protagonists face. Their enthusiasm makes Herskowitz's task easy, and she adroitly guides the discussion.
"I've read thousands of books," says Herskowitz. "The ones that stick with me, that I remember through the years, are the ones we discussed in this book club."
The group started in 1973. In July of that year, a number of women met to form the Sunken Meadow Chapter of Women's American ORT (Organization for Rehabilitation Through Training), a philanthropic league that trains individuals in the skills needed to find employment. [Sunken Meadow is one of eight ORT chapters in Nassau and Suffolk.] At that meeting many of the women also talked of doing something to challenge their intellect.
Lackowitz, one of the chapter's founders explains, "We were all college graduates, in our 20s, with husbands and young children. In those days, mothers did not work; they stayed home with the children. ORT was a way to give back to the community. The reading group would provide the mental stimulation we needed. So, one month later, we met as a book club for the first time."
At that meeting, the mechanics of the group were established. The first requirement was that anyone who wanted to join the book club must first join the Sunken Meadow ORT chapter and pay the $36 annual dues; an additional $36 donation, which also goes to ORT, covers the book club membership.
Each new season starts in August with an organizational session. Members suggest books to be read, based on reviews or word-of-mouth. Ten books are chosen, with all members voting on the selections. From September through June, one book is discussed at each monthly meeting.
Little has changed over the years, except for the time the club meets. "In the early years, we met in the daytime at people's homes," Lackowitz says. "We all had young kids so we would hire baby sitters; professionals from an agency. We would drop the children off at members' houses; not where the book meeting was taking place. As the years went by and the kids got older, we went to nighttime meetings."
Holding the group together
Groups often come and go, but Sunken Meadow members say there's a reason why they have stayed together for all these years. In unison, they say "Cheryl," as in Cheryl Pegler. "She's the glue that holds us together," Lackowitz says.
Pegler, of Kings Park, also a founding member, downplays the compliments. "I'm passionate about books and these ladies. We started out as young mothers with babies, now we're grandmas with grandkids. We're family."
And like all families, this one has had its share of pain. "We've seen, death, divorce, sickness, the things people go through in their lives. We've been there for each other when times were tough," Pegler notes.
Nicky Ecker, of Fort Salonga, describes other ways the women have bonded. "Beside the books, we'd get together to play tennis, mah-jongg, bowling. Our husbands also became friends. We would do dinners together, some of us were into boating and would travel as a group. My husband had an illness and the group was very supportive, before, during and after."
Ecker's husband, Bob, a dentist in Bay Shore, died five years ago and the group's support and compassion haven't faded. "Most of the girls are still couples," Ecker says, "but, I have no problem going out with them, going on vacations. I don't feel like the odd man out."
Almost all of the club's women are now in their 60s and don't want their ages published. One exception is Connie Karpf, of Commack. When asked how old she is, she proudly replies, "I'm 82." Most of the other members are younger, but, "I like being with young people," she says. "How they relate. I learn from how they look at things. I bring my experience, which I think helps them." Her experience includes extensive travel. One week after the club gathering at Lackowitz's home she went on a trip to South Africa with the Long Island Horticultural Society, to study the botany of that country.
As the meeting winds down, it seems that everyone enjoyed "The Light Between Oceans," when suddenly. Rebecca Sobotkin, of Kings Park, says, "I just didn't like it." That paved the way for a bit more discussion.
After more than 40 years of getting together, members are used to the back-and-forth of debate in a friendly atmosphere. As the women head home, it's clear there's no animosity caused by a difference of opinion.
Says Karpf, "We don't always agree, but we're always on the same page."
5 favorite reads
Five of the most memorable books, selected by members of the Sunken Meadow Book Club:
"People of the Book" by Geraldine Brooks
"The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant
"The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak
"The Book of Daniel" by E.L. Doctorow
"The Dollmaker" by Harriette Arnow
For more club information, club, contact Cheryl Pegler at Cheryl0513@aol.com