An interview with Nancy Berla, co-founder of Heartlands book discussion group.
How did your group get started? I had a friend who was in a book club in the community with me, and she eventually had to move to Heartlands, a retirement center in Ellicott City. I continued to visit her and read to her. She was almost blind. ... She was interested in having a book club with the residents there, so she and I worked on it. ... She died a couple of years later, and I continued on with it in her memory.
Do you provide the books for the residents to read? I collect all the books from the libraries and pass them out. Usually I can get them through a librarian at the central branch of the Howard County library. Sometimes I have to go to another library system for additional copies. We have eight or 10 residents attending an average meeting and about 15 club members total. If we need to, we can get copies of most books either on cassette, CD or as large-print books from the public library, or on tape from the Library for the Blind in Baltimore.
What book are members reading this month? The Upstart, by Catherine Cookson, who is not a very well-known writer, but she has written many books. She is a British writer. She died in her 90s, within the last two or three years, I believe. I find [the club members] like the older writers. Catherine Cookson writes novels that are usually set in England, maybe in the middle of the 19th century ... not a lot of violence, not a lot of explicit sex.
Does the group have favorite authors? I think they like Jan Karon, an American writer. She writes about small-town life in North Carolina, and one of her characters is a minister. ... I think [club members] like books where they enjoy the characters and there is not a lot of distress. On the other hand, they read [John] Grisham and Mary Higgins Clark, and they like to get into the mysteries. We've also read a lot of classics: Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather.
We read a lot of biographies or autobiographies: George Burns' book about his wife, and Ava Gardner's autobiography, Charles Kuralt's America a Life on the Road. Growing Up by Russell Baker - that was a good one because he grew up in Baltimore, and [club members] could relate to the places he talked about.
Sometimes I find that older people relate to a book that makes them remember past experiences. We may be reading a book about a rural setting, and someone might say, "I grew up on a farm" and tell about that experience. Or someone might say, "I've known people like almost every character in this book," and that creates a great discussion.