During a recent weekend excursion to Bethany Beach, a local book club reflected on its most recent novel – “Daisy Jones and the Six” by Taylor Jenkins Reid - while relaxing and reminiscing.
For more than two decades - and nearly 200 books - a group of Severna Park residents have bonded, forming a unique connection and genuine friendships.
Dubbed Through Thick & Thin, the group was started by Beth Tush after she moved to the area in the late ‘90s.
“In ‘98, we had recently moved here and I went from full-time to part-time work, so I didn’t know a lot of people,” explained Tush. “I always loved to read and really wanted to be in a book club, so I figured I’d invite the people who I’ve met and liked. Most of these people are parents of my children’s friends and we just started up. Originally we had about eight, and a few dropped out or moved, but within just a couple of years, we had this great core group and we have been together ever since.”
Tina Robinson wasn’t an original member. “I was brought in by Maren [Strom],” she said. “Our sons played together, and the group just kind of grew and morphed a bit over the years.”
Strom said, “Of the eight of us here, seven of us had sons in the same grade. And Laurie lives just across the street.”
“And Cindy [Love] invited me,” Sharon Crum added. “Our daughters were best friends.”
Initially, they half-jokingly referred to themselves as Bagels and Books.
“We started off as a morning group. When kids would go off to school, we would get together,” Tush said. “Once the kids got a bit older, most went back to work, and the group transitioned to evening get-togethers.”
With busy lives and various competing priorities, it can be hard to find time to sit down and focus on one thing - especially reading.
“The greatest thing about the book club is that it makes you read a book,” said Jenna Grifo. “With very busy lives, raising kids, that was hard to do, but you did it. It kind of forced you to take and carve out some time for yourself.”
Going through practically every genre over the years - historical novels, memoires, biographies, autobiographies, classics, nonfiction - the group takes its book selection and discussion seriously.
“One of the things that is so endearing about this group is that we really talk about the books,” Robinson said. “You hear all of those jokes about book clubs where it’s about the wine - well it is about the wine a little - but it is about the book first. We have really great conversations about the books, which I think is important.”
More than just the books though, there is value to having a lively conversation with a group of people, rather than an email, a phone call, or text message, or something about work. The club has provided an outlet and an opportunity to share ideas and have a dialogue with one another — listening to understand and relate, rather than simply listening to respond, which is a skill that can be hard to develop nowadays.
“When we discuss a book and you get everyone's opinions on it, we get different points of view, which makes you more well-rounded,” said Robin Sells. “You’re more knowledgeable and you can speak to people about things that are being read.”
“What Tina might think about a book, I might have a different spin,” Crum said. “We may all have different takes on similar subjects or ideas that we really hadn’t thought about before. She grew up in North Carolina, I grew up here, and just those different perspectives can be valuable.”
Which makes these friendships and personal connections deep and meaningful. Twenty years of exploring everything from Mark Twain’s “Pudd’nhead Wilson” to Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime,” the group’s discussions have been eye-opening, thought-provoking and uniquely treasured.
“The books illuminate things and give us a vehicle to learn so much more about each other,” explained Robinson. “I think we’re all really good at expressing what we like or don’t like and that helps us learn - about ourselves and about each other.”
“I know so much more about this group of people from their parents, their upbringing, children, hopes, and dreams than many other people that I probably spend more physical time with,” added Jenna Grifo.
Sometimes, books that split the group end up leading to the best – or at least the most entertaining – discussions.
“There was one where I was the only one who liked it - “Hamptons Christmas” by James Brady,” said Sells.
“That was the last time I recommended a book,” laughed Maren. “It was such a zinger - so bad. I was just like ‘I’m not ever recommending a book again.’”
Crum added that it, “Definitely made for a good discussion, when we’re all like - how could you like that!?”
It’s not usually such a clearly defined consensus though.
“We were just talking about “Devil in the White City” (by Erik Larson), and Maren and I loved it,” explained Robinson. “Some books are a little more tedious to read, more detailed, and some people aren’t as fond of that, while other people love it.”
And sometimes the consensus is 100% on a book.
“I think we’re solidly against “Mrs Dalloway” (by Virginia Woolf),” said Love.
“We can unite on that one,” noted Robinson. “One sentence lasted 17 pages! Not a fan.”
Good, bad or in between, the books have helped develop friendships within a group that is more of a family than a club.
“You wouldn’t necessarily have some of the conversations that you’ve had over the years without something initiating the dialogue - without the prompt of an emotional or relatable subject,” noted Crum.
During the trip to the shore, reminiscing over the years, was when they actually decided to give an official title to their long-standing club. If they were to write their own book, they all agree that Robinson would be the primary author, and the story would revolve around being together, “through thick and thin.”
“The thick and thin kind of describes us on so many levels,” explained Robinson. “It’s through the thick and thin of the relationships we’ve had; the fact that we’ve shared so much heartbreak and happiness - we’ve shared all of that. Also, we’ve had some really thick books and some really thin ones ... and some of us, through the years we’ve been a little thicker or a little thicker. But through it all, we just laugh – a lot!”
For their 200th book next month, the group chose “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams.
“We wanted to do a classic for our 200th book,” Tush said. “Amy had read it years ago and said it was great, so we took her recommendation, and if it’s not, she’ll hear about it!