Planning an OLLI social event in today’s world presents challenges. Robyn Cheung decided to try a form of book discussion and I offered to moderate. The result was an invitation to a virtual Book Lovers’ Happy Hour on September 4. Would anybody come? Should we prepare some back-up questions in case the discussion lags? Silly us.
The 15 participants signed in more than ready to talk about their books. There was very little moderating to do except to ensure that everyone had a chance to speak — plenty of time to marvel at the variety and depth of both selections and accompanying commentary.
Some turned to well-loved favorites: Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand or The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher. Others, to works inspired by classics: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow, based on Pride and Prejudice, or Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan, a hilarious send-up of Room with a View.
The realities of current times inspired the choice of Stephen King’s The Stand, a monumental apocalyptic novel about a pandemic: “because now I know it can really happen.”
The struggle for racial equality is reflected in The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, a novel about light-skinned Black sisters growing up in the segregated South; and works by Edward P.Jones, Colson Whitehead and James McBride.
Non-fiction was represented by The Splendid and The Vile by Erik Larson, a testament to the bravery of Londoners during the Blitz, and Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa by Marilyn Chase, a biography of a Japanese-American sculptor.
Two little-known novels generated much discussion: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steve Galloway, the power of music in a war torn city; and Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, a story about the Blue People of Kentucky and the pack horse librarians who traversed the treacherous mountain paths to bring books to the isolated.
There were heads nodding in agreement, smiles of recognition, comments, questions, suggestions for related works or other works by the same author. Over the weekend, we received emails: ”Thank you, What fun, Can we do this again?” Yes, indeed.
Linda Feeney, originally from Boston, moved to Tampa upon retiring from a 17-year career at the Ford Foundation. When Linda first encountered OLLI, she was impressed with the quality and depth of the classes. Since then she has been teaching OLLI courses and has participated in the Leadership Course, which added depth to her knowledge of how OLLI functions. She believes that OLLI is a wonderful example of how a community of members can develop and sustain an organization serving a meaningful purpose.