When she first suggested creating a book club, Iris Pressman wanted to give herself and six of her friends a new hobby since some of their children had just gone off to college.

Two decades later, the book club is still going strong with six of its original members continuing to be part of the group. (One original member moved away.)

The club, which does not have a name and is not open to new recruits, meets in the Pikesville and Owings Mills residences of its members, who are in their late 60s and early 70s.

To celebrate the group’s 20th anniversary milestone, Pressman recently decided to surprise her friends with a unique girls’ night out at her Pikesville home.

“I decided to have a Maryland-themed evening,” says Pressman, a Baltimore native and graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park. “I told all the women to wear Maryland gear, but didn’t tell them why. I wanted to do something fun for them in honor of our 20-year anniversary.”

From left, Aileen Sweren, Rona Pepper, Iris Pressman, Diane Steinberg, Cheryl Rosenfeld and Carol Milner toast to their 20 years of meeting as a book club. (Photo by Steve Ruark)
From left, Aileen Sweren, Rona Pepper, Iris Pressman, Diane Steinberg, Cheryl Rosenfeld and Carol Milner toast to their 20 years as a book club. (Photo by Steve Ruark)

Pressman set her table with matching Maryland flag tablecloths and napkins, and had all of the essentials for an Old Line State-themed soiree – Berger cookies, crab cake balls, Graul’s cake, Ledo Pizza and a Maryland pen.

“Iris really went out of her way,” says Cheryl Rosenfeld, one of the club’s members. “This book club was her brainchild, and it was really sweet what she did for us to make this anniversary special.”

In addition to the state-themed food and décor, the women decided to read Baltimore-based author Laura Lippman’s newest book, “Lady in the Lake” (William Morris), which takes place in ‘60s-era Charm City and will be discussed at their next meeting. The book they talked about during their 20th anniversary gathering was “Gateway to the Moon” (Anchor) by Mary Morris.

A cake marks 20 years of six local ladies meeting as a book club. (Photo by Steve Ruark)
A cake marks 20 years of six local ladies meeting as a book club. (Photo by Steve Ruark)

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years,” says Carol Milner, another member. “When we first started, there weren’t Kindles or Nooks, so we would pick books we knew came in hardback copies that we could get from the library.”

Back in December of 1999, the book that launched the club was the New Hampshire-set novel “The Pilot’s Wife” (Little, Brown) by Anita Shreve. Since then, members have read more than 160 titles, including such classics as “Jane Eyre” by 19th-century novelist Charlotte Bronte, Betty Smith’s semi-autobiographical “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” and the Jazz Age-inspired “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Some of the group’s favorites include “Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail” (Miramax) by Malika Oufkir, “Turbulent Souls” (Avon Books) by Stephen J. Dubner, and Cynthia Hartwick’s “Ladies with Options” (Berkley).

“We have read some books I would never have picked up on my own,” Milner says. “What’s really great is discussing the books because there have been times when I haven’t loved a book initially but after talking about it, I like it much more.”

Unlike some book clubs that tend to focus on wine, food and socializing, these women make sure to always discuss the selected book. The first part of their evening is generally dedicated to catching up on each other’s lives and children; a handful of the women even have kids who grew up together and remain close friends. Then, the gatherings feature a book discussion and a vote on what to read next.

The members also pay dues — they bring $5 to each meeting, and at the end of the year they go out to a restaurant to enjoy a dinner using the funds raised.

“When this first started, I thought it would be a nice social thing,” says Pressman. “I think we have managed to keep it going over the years because it’s a small, solid group of women. We are all down to earth and have similar backgrounds and interests.”

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