The Silicon Valley Book Club

... almost as reported in the Calvin College Alumni Magazine, Spark (1997)
[ en français courtesy S. Moraru]

"To the height of two Friesians" -- that's how high the books piled when the Silicon Valley Book Club gathered one copy of each book they've read as a group, in honor of the club's fifteenth anniversary.

For many years, there was no official Calvin College Alumni Chapter in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, but that didn't mean Calvin alumni (and friends) weren't gathering. The Silicon Valley Book Club (just "Book Club" to its members) has served as an unofficial gathering point since 1982.

Book Club arose out of a conversation among some Calvin alum (including a few English majors) and friends who said one thing they missed about college was the chance to read books "corporately" and discuss them. The logical question was "Why not start a book club?" and so, on July 10, 1982, they had their first meeting at Monty and Lori (Broersma) Vanderbilt's home in Menlo Park, CA. The others present were Keith and Ruth (Van Baak) Griffioen, Don Sterk, Jan (Vander Sluis) Seerveld, Peter Bonis, and Todd and Carole (Rossey) Hoeksema.

After fifteen years, and a lot of people coming and going, the current membership stands at: Dennis & Vicki (Verhulst) Cok, Luke (a Dordt College graduate) and Jan Seerveld, Bob and Charlotte Wilson, Tom and Kim (Vruwink, another Dordt Graduate) Fiske, Don & Valerie (Stegink) Sterk, J. Todd and Carole (Rossey) Hoeksema, Randy and Mavis (Kok) Moon, and Jan Kok. Sixteen children of the Book Club members supplement the numbers. The children, mostly still in elementary school -- or younger -- look forward to Book Club night, too, although instead of discussing books they watch videos and play.

Besides the charter and current members already mentioned, other Calvin Alumni who have come and gone over the years include: Phil Schreur, Jack and Elizabeth (McNeely) Snoeyink, Tom Van Baak, and Rob and Marie Broersma.

Typically, the group meets once a month to discuss a new book. Two exceptions to the "book-a-month" pattern were The Brothers Karamazov, which took two months for everyone to finish reading, and Henry V, which the group read aloud at two successive meetings. Book Club meets at a different house every month, rotating in alphabetical order by last name. (One member who declined to be identified remarked, "Thanks to Book Club, my house gets cleaned at least twice a year.") On a typical Book Club night, members arrive after 7:30 and discuss the book -- and everything else under the sun -- over snacks and drinks. When coffee and dessert are served, toward the end of the evening, they vote on the next month's book. Members may bring in books they've enjoyed and put them up for vote, or someone may suggest a genre ("We haven't done non-fiction in a while"), and sometimes they choose titles from best-seller lists.

For the Fifteenth Anniversary, charter members Keith and Ruth Griffioen also came. The Griffioens now live in Virginia, but they visit the Bay Area most summers and always try to drop in at Book Club. This year, Ruth e-mailed in advance to suggest noting the anniversary by gathering "one big pile of books" and taking pictures. Dennis Cok, who has come to Book Club since its second meeting, has kept a list of all the titles, and the list was passed around by e-mail, with members eliminating the titles they could supply, until all but two (Suetonius and Richard Adams' The Plague Dogs) were accounted for.

Even with two missing, the stack of books went to the ceiling of Randy and Mavis Moon's living room and then some (a total of 12 feet). Some of Book Club's tallest members stood by the stack for reference (Don Sterk, Dennis Cok and Keith Griffioen, all in the 6'5" range), prompting the Dante quotation of "to the height of two Friesians." (The context of the quote is unprintable in a magazine like the Spark, so if you're curious, hunt through the Inferno.)

What books are in that "big pile" of 150 books? They vary in scope and genre. There are fiction and non-fiction, novels and biography, and even several plays, which the group read aloud together. The books are as short as Holy the Firm and as long as Mists of Avalon, as venerable as Suetonius, as heavy as as The Harvard Report on Nuclear War, and as light as Fried Green Tomatoes. For the complete list, with smileys :-) and frowns :-( indicating the favorites and least favorites, you can check the Club's book list (this is Silicon Valley, after all).

We welcome your comments and book recommendations: Send email.