Readers find split in tastes

Book club

February 14, 2002

An interview with Levern McElveen of The Freedom Readers book club.

What is the makeup of your group? We're all friends. There are two other men in addition to myself. We have about nine members right now ... The average age, I would say, is probably around 40.

What book are members reading this month? We're reading Van Whitfield's Guys in Suits. It's a story of four male friends bonding, and the catch-all is one of the friends comes down with prostate cancer, and the book then goes off into how the other friends handle that. It starts out as a comedy, and then it goes into a much more serious note.

Does your group focus on a certain kind of book? They are strictly African-American books for the club. You know, members read whatever they want on their own, but for the club we read African-American authors.

Does the group have favorite authors or authors that you revisit? I think J. California Cooper we've read more than once. Terry McMillan we read more than once: We did Disappearing Acts and, of course, we did Waiting to Exhale. I'm struck by Ernest Gaines: We read A Gathering of Old Men, A Lesson Before Dying - and that was one that was featured as part of Oprah's Book Club and it was made into a movie.

Is there a book that many of the members did not like? Possessing the Secret of Joy by Alice Walker. That book split along gender lines, and that book dealt with mutilation of women in Africa. One guy came in, and he didn't know that he was going to offend the women. He said, "I couldn't get into that book." The book was gruesome when I read it. The men did not have the same sense of the mutilation as the women had, and it just further irritated the women when the one club member kind of took a negative position.

When you get into an author like Alice Walker, Toni Morrison - these are what I call deep writers. To me, they're just heavy. Shelby Steele [who wrote] The Content of Our Character. We've gone through these kind of writers, and we've read other free-flowing writers, yet they have powerful messages [too], like J. California Cooper.

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