A Village of Readers
For over a century, Davidson has been a village of readers. A movement, which started in the late 19th century, has resulted in the town’s current roster of, at least, 35 book clubs.
According to historians Jan Blodgett and Ralph Levering, in the 1870s, before there was an organized book club in town, there was a Friday evening “Reading Circle” for the more “literary minded.” In 1899, Jennie Martin, the wife of Davidson College president W. J. Martin, organized the Woman’s Book Club. The January 1899 Davidson College Magazine reported on the first meeting, where “Eight congenial spirits were present, and the discussion of some of the newest books of the season rose to a high pitch of interest.” According to Blodgett and Levering, membership was by invitation, and “the club provided a form of social distinction as well as an intellectual outlet.” In the early 20th century membership was increased to 20, and the club was renamed the Booklovers Club. It remains active today.
Davidson’s second book club, also still active, was the Thelemites, organized with the help of the Booklovers in 1921. In 1922 the two clubs joined forces to bring poet Vachel Lindsey to Davidson. A number of book clubs followed, including As You Like It (1922), Sorosis (1926), the Twentieth Century Club (1927), the Tuesday Club (1934, also organized with the help of the Booklovers), and the Centennial Club (1937). Of these, the Tuesday Club and the Centennial club are still active; the Twentieth Century Club, Sorosis and As You Like it later disbanded. Most of these clubs met twice a week and most discussed books, although the Centennial Club has been both a study club and a book club over the years.
More clubs followed. In 1946 the Eighteen Book Club was founded for newcomers to the community. Around 1951 the Athenaeum Club was organized, and in 1974 the Aplian Book Club was organized “for the purposes of informal fellowship and the exchange of books”; all three are still in existence. The Literatae Book Club, which first met in 1991, was intended to “encourage reading, provide for an exchange of ideas, and to encourage fellowship.” In 1996, the Alpha Book Club was organized at The Pines, and in 1998 a group of employees at Davidson College organized the Tarbelles Book Club. They met monthly, and have had such prominent speakers as Sheri Reynolds, Robert Morgan, and Josephine Humphreys.
Some of the newer book clubs in town have been organized in neighborhoods. The St. Alban’s neighborhood has two such clubs, a women’s club called the New Da Book Club and a co-ed club whose members read and discuss the classics. Other neighborhood clubs include the River Run Readers, the Rollingdale Book Club, Summer’s Walk Book Club and Town Heights Neighborhood Book Club. According to a list provided by Adah Fitzgerald of Main Street Books, other clubs include their own book club, Main Street Readers, as well as: A Few Friends, Best Cellars, Bill Davis Book Discussion Group, Book Divas, Bookwise Wives, BTW (Books, Tangents, Wine), Cover to Cover, the Davidson College Presbyterian Church Book Club, the Elizabeth Woods Reading Circle, the History and Historical Fiction Book Club, Literary Ladies, the Page Turners Book Club, the PEO Daisy Book Club, Readers@TheLake, Shar’n the Love, Summit Book Club, That Other Book Club, Waiting for Maya, Word Hordes, and Words & Wine.
Since 1996 Davidson’s book clubs have sponsored an annual author event, hosting an author for a reading and book discussion. This year’s author was Denise Kiernan, author of The Last Castle.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. She is the author of numerous books and articles on Arkansas and South Carolina history. She is the author of "Ada Jenkins: The Heart of the Matter," a history of the Ada Jenkins school and center.