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As a child, Joan Burtnett always looked forward to the days when the bookmobile would stop at the top of the hill where she lived.
Nowadays, the retired elementary school teacher and Arizona State University alum gets her literary fix at the ASU Book Group’s meetings, held from noon to 1 p.m. on (mostly) the last Wednesday of every month at the Virginia G. Piper Writers House on the Tempe campus.
This fall, the group kicks off its fifth year. It began in the fall of 2011 at the behest of Judith Smith, then an ASU media relations officer and contributor to ASU News. (Smith has since retired after 25 years with the university but remains active within the group and the ASU community in general.)
“I decided to start the book group because I … was privileged to meet many of the faculty at ASU who wrote interesting books on a variety of topics,” she said. “The average person at ASU does not get that chance, so I thought it would be great to invite ASU faculty, staff, graduates – and local authors – to [participate in the group].”
At each meeting, members discuss that month’s book, which, more often than not, is presided over by the authors themselves. Afterward, they can join the author and Smith for lunch at the University Club.
Past books have included “Desert Wind,” by local author Betty Webb; “Available Surfaces: Essays on Poesis,” by ASU English professor T. R. Hummer; and “A World Apart,” by Camelia Skiba with ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.
Skiba isn’t just a featured author of the book group, though; she’s one of its most enthusiastic members.
“Books bring people together, feed our imagination and nourish our souls; we find ourselves inside their pages, living through the hero’s eyes and being exposed to things real life doesn’t always allow us – like traveling to places we can’t afford to go, other cultures and traditions, etc.,” she said.
ASU College of Law staffer Carolyn Landry has been a member of the group since its inception. She doesn’t hesitate when asked what she likes most about it:
“Meeting the authors!”
Among some of her favorites is Jewell Parker Rhodes, ASU English professor and director of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, whose award-winning book “Ninth Ward” the group discussed.
“Jewell was really amazing, dynamic and fun to talk to,” said Landry.
Despite the ASU Book Group’s shining reviews, members like Burtnett and Skiba lament that not enough people seem to know about it.
“The authors are always so interesting, and I’m sorry and surprised that more people don’t come because I’ve always had a good time,” said Burtnett.
Not much of a reader? No problem, Smith said.
”I encourage people to come to the meetings even if they haven't read the book. It's a great learning experience, and just plain fun to hear the authors talk about what motivated them to write the book, and how it all took place,” she said.
The ASU Book Group is sponsored by the Department of English. It is free and open to all members of the ASU community.
“It’s free and at your feet; all it takes is a walk through the campus and you’re there,” Skiba said. “Make friends, learn something, discover new subjects, enhance your imagination … the list can go on.”
The schedule for the ASU Book Group’s fifth year:
Sept. 30 – “Gettysburg, 1913: A Novel of the Great Reunion,” by Alan Simon, a faculty member in the Information Systems Department of the W. P. Carey School of Business and an ASU graduate.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, more than 50,000 Civil War veterans ranging in age from 61 to more than 100 converged on the scene of the battle exactly half a century earlier in the real-life occasion of healing that was known as the Great Reunion. Simon’s novel tells the story of the Great Reunion through a cast of characters from both sides of the war as well as those charged with the success of the occasion.
The book is available as an e-book on Amazon.com.
Oct. 28 – “Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love and Die at the Movies,” by Tara Ison, an associate professor of English at ASU.
“Reeling Through Life” looks at how film shapes identity. Through 10 cleverly constructed essays, Ison explores how a lifetime of movie watching has, for better or worse, taught her how to navigate the world and how to grapple with issues of career, family, faith, illness, sex and love.
The book is available at bookstores.
Dec. 2 – “My Son Dave (The Duck): A Story About Loving and Letting Go,” by Plynn Gutman, an ASU graduate.
Gutman discovers a baby duck alone on a neighborhood street at a serendipitous moment in her life. Sensing her own sons growing away from her, the emptying hole in her heart fills when Dave (the Duck) imprints on her as his mother. With sensitivity and wit, Gutman shares her account of the challenges and joys of adopting Dave and raising him with the same love and care she gave her own sons.
The book is available as an e-book on Amazon.com, and a print edition is in the works.
Jan. 27 – “The Best of a Better View,” by Chris Benghue, an ASU graduate who has written for People Magazine and the National Enquirer, among other publications. He is a columnist for The Catholic Sun.
“The Best of a Better View” is an inspiring pick-me-up that helps the reader put the news, as well as their own personal experiences, into meaningful and hopeful perspectives.
The book is available through the publisher, Amor Deus Publishing, or on Amazon.com.
Feb. 24 – “Pachacuti: World Overturned,” by Lori Eshleman, an instructor in ASU’s College of Letters and Sciences at the Polytechnic campus.
Eshleman has always been drawn to those spaces in time where cultural and religious traditions encountered each other, from the European Middle Ages to colonial Latin America to the American West. Her new book of historical fiction explores the overlap of issues of race, gender, politics and religion through characters whose lives become entwined during an uprising in the Andean kingdom of Quito in the 1700s.
The book is available through ACMRS Publications.
March 30 – “Classic Tales from the Firehouse,” by Rebecca Joy and Betty Hammer Joy. Rebecca Joy is an ASU graduate and was among the first group of women hired by the Phoenix Fire Department.
“Classic Tales From the Firehouse” focuses on the sometimes poignant, often lighthearted, but always human side of the fire service career and the heroes and heroines who choose it. The book captures the diversity of situations that firefighters encounter on the streets and in day-to-day life with their crews. Entertaining, historical and even educational, these stories reflect the forward progress of fire service over the decades.
The book is available through the website Classic Tales From The Firehouse.