Sunday, May 10, 2009

May 16, 2007 -- "Joining in the conversation" by Raymond Reeves for Northeast Ledger

"Joining in the conversation" by Raymond Reeves of Northeast Ledger (May 16, 2007)

The key is in the name. The Conversations Book Club, which meets at 6p.m. every Tuesday and Friday at the Medgar Evers Library, is different than traditional book clubs. While the latest tome is discussed among members, the conversation also includes the author, who is included in a conference call or, occasionally, in person.

By having access to the writer, the discussions acn include not only members' thoughts and opinions but also questions on why th author handled topics and events in a specific manner.

"It actually started for a selfish reason back in November," said Cyrus A. Webb, founder of the club. "I was looking for a club that read a variety of books--not just African American, not just genre--and we really couldn't find one. So we decided to start our own.

"I have been privileged enough to meet quite a few authors over the last few years. I called them up and told them that I wanted to make an interactive book club. By the end of December I had a full schedule for this year."

When Webb met with Laura Turner, the librarian at Medgar Evers, she agreed to hold the library open for an extra hour on the meeting days.

"Cyrus came to me with the idea and I thought it was a wonderful idea," Turner said. "People are so technology-oriented today that nobody wants to read a book anymore; it's almost becoming a lost art. I was very accepting of the idea once I knew it was a book club and it would be books that were in our library.

"I'm a librarian who thinks that reading is good--without any qualifiers, modifiers or any of the other things people (use). To me, reading is reading and it's all good for the most part."

Webb's previous work under the Conversations name -- he has a show called Conversations with C. A. Webb on Mississippi Public Radio and WAPT television, both versions of which are on summer hiatus--opened some eyes for at least one book club member.

"I heard about Conversations, the brand, about two or three years ago," said Andrea Ruffin, who also works at WaldenBooks where some of the club's other branch meetings are held. "I saw him on television and I remember thinking 'Wow, he's doing something for the community.' I lived in Florida for about eight months, and when I came back in January I saw a flyer where I work" about the club.

In addition to traditional authors, the club also brings in those who are better known for their work in another avenue. For instance, music fans hit the club to hear well-known rapper C-Murder earlier this year---and found out that his debut novel was an enjoyable read. The same holds true for the authors affiliated with Grammy-nominated rapper 50 Cent's G-Unit Books.

The uniqueness of the club's setup is a drawing card.

"I think the book club is a great thing. You get the chance to meet people that you normally wouldn't get a chance to meet-No. 1 is the authors," Ruffin said. "They take time out of their busy day to give us an hour every Tuesday and Friday. They're willing to go the extra mile and give the book club a chance.

"When you read a book, you may think, 'Oh, the author seems nice.' But when you get the chance to talk to that author and ask 'Why did you do this' or 'Why did you do that' it's different. It's like bringing in the magic, like at Disney World."

Webb and Stanley Clark, the founding members of the club, consider it important to get involved in other clubs as well as their own.

"The most interesting thing to me about this book club is that it was started by men. That's like one in a million; you never see that," Ruffin said. "And you'll see them out in the community supporting other book clubs. You hardly ever see that."

That is an important aspect, according to Webb. He has said that he views Conversations as an "interfaith" group; he's not looking to get people to leave their current club and join Conversations. He said he would prefer them to remain active in their present club and get involved in Conversations as well.

Webb understands that making every meeting is virtually impossible in today's busy society. Because of that, he gives absent members a second chance at the meeting, thanks to the club's Web site.

"For those who can't make the discussions, we started the Web site--modestly called -- where I do a transcript of the conversation," Webb said. "So, we do the highlights on the Web site for people to reflect back on.

"We also tell what books (the authors) have written, because a lot of times people, especially in our teen groups, say they don't like to read, so it's just a matter of finding something they can relate to or something that gets their interest. That's why we choose a variety of authors. We're trying to get people into the mindset of thinking genres inestead of race. I think that opens up a totally different group for them."

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