Enriching the workplace

Book club fosters law firm camaraderie

If you’ve thought about joining a book group but feel you just don’t have the time to work it into your busy schedule, you’ll be inspired by The Cool Book Club.

Staffers at the Coolidge Wall law firm in downtown Dayton meet twice a week on their lunch hour to share a love of reading and good books. About 10 to 15 usually participate.

“I think the interplay among the secretaries, attorneys, paralegals and our IT manager has been good for developing an over-all team approach to our work as a firm,” says Merle Wilberding, the law firm partner who came up with the idea of starting the group. He says the lunchtime conversations have given members a chance to appreciate one another’s talents and interests in ways that wouldn’t have been achieved otherwise.

Barbara Piatt, a secretary at the firm, says she loves seeing another side to the “lawyer-types.”

“Josh (Lounsbury) astounds me with his avid reading, knowing how busy he must be with the triplets and he still finds time to read everything that comes along and remembers vivid details about every one of them,” she says. ” I love to see David (Pierce) actually sitting down and not being tied to his iPhone for a whole hour! He is another person from the one I see passing in the hallway!”

Wilberding says the group is in its ninth year and is still going strong.

“It has become a great way to enhance the spirit within the firm because all of us are sharing our interest in books and sharing our experiences from the book at hand,” he adds.

How it works

The group schedules its book club discussions for exactly one hour so that no one’s schedule is disrupted, usually from noon until 1 p.m. The firm provides lunch.

“There have been times when we have extended the discussion for an additional session on a subsequent days,” Wilberding says. “For example, when the Big Read promoted ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ we followed up our discussion of that book with a showing of the 1962 movie with Gregory Peck and Mary Badham.”

Getting started

Wilberding organized the club in 2005, inspired by the push and desire to be part of the Community Big Read program.

“We adopted a structure in which we would read The Big Read selection in the spring and then pick a book of our own choosing in the fall.”

When the Big Read took a break, members began selecting both books on their own.

“We were delighted to see that the Big Read program is resuming and we look forward to reading that book for our spring of 2014 discussion group,” says Wilberding.

Although they haven’t focused on the Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners, members did read “Lost City Radio,” the 2008 nonfiction runner up by Daniel Alarcon. Wilberding, one of the founding trustees of the Prize, continues to serve on the board and has emceed the informal Saturday night authors’ events.

“We have been discussing which of the 2013 DLPP winning books we may read and the two that have generated the most interest have been ‘Far From the Tree’ by Andrew Solomon and ‘Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk’ by Ben Fountain,” he says.

Solomon’s book, which is this year’s nonfiction winner, focuses on parents dealing with children who face special challenges — deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia — as well as with children who are prodigies or criminals. Fountain’s book, the 2013 runner-up for fiction, revolves around a 2004 Dallas Cowboys Football Game in which Bravo Squad — home from the war in Iraq but heading back — is scheduled to be the featured half-time attraction along with Destiny’s Child.

What members say:

“I enjoy being a member of the Cool Book Club because of the compatibility and diverse interests of its members. For instance, I have a nursing background and found ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,’ by Rebecca Skloot, to be a story of great interest to me.

“This nonfiction book is a study in human nature, which also brings to light ethical and scientific issues. While I was particularly interested in this work from a medical/scientific standpoint, another member of our reading group may have focused on the many hardships of Henrietta, a poor, young woman in the South raising five children. The book shows us the strength that Henrietta exhibited while going through her illness, and the “immortal” impact she and her illness have had on her family and medical science.”

— Linda Kiselica, paralegal

“Our group picks books by consensus. This process allows each of us to discover titles and authors we may not ordinarily read. There is a simple pleasure in the discovery of good literature.”

— Chris Conard, attorney

“I have particularly liked our wrap-up discussions. Many of our books have dealt with current social issues like ‘Nickel and Dimed,’ and ‘The Glass Castle.’ It is enlightening to have a group discussion with peers of different backgrounds, professions and outlooks. Stimulating conversation, I believe, is probably a goal of every author.”

Russ Jacox, IT manager

“I love to read, and this club has encouraged me to read books that I would not have necessarily picked for myself, so I’ve been exposed to diffSerent genres. I have recommended many of the books that we’ve read to my friends and family.”

Joyce George, secretary

“My favorite book is the ‘Book Thief’ by Markus Zusak. It is a wonderful tale of humanity narrated by death himself. I welcome each book club discussion as an opportunity to engage in an intellectual discussion about something other than the law.

“The members of our book club are as diverse as the books themselves. Each person contributes to our discussions based on their own experiences.”

David Pierce, attorney

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