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Twin Ports book club celebrates 25 years

The Friday Night Culture Club has been meeting to discuss books, and more, for 25 years. Although some of the group has changed over time, the core group has remained strong.

People sitting around table
Dale Shimmin, from left, Lyn Kaim, Joan MacDonell and Anita Fraundorf discuss “Candide” by Voltaire during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday in South Range.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — "Frankenstein," by Mary Shelley, "Just Mercy" by Bryan Stevenson, "Mountains Beyond Mountains" by Tracy Kidder, "Arctic Dreams" by Barry Lopez, "Stones from the River" by Ursula Hegi and "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown.

People sitting around table
Terry Ross laughs during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

What do all of these books have in common They've made the biggest impact for a few members of the Friday Night Culture Club, a Twin Ports-based book club that will celebrate 25 years in November. The group met recently at host Terry Ross' house in South Range to discuss this month's book, "Candide" by Voltaire, and reflect on their first 25 years of existence.

"One thing about this book club, that I'll say, is that even when I don't really like a book, like this one," said longtime member Joan MacDonnell, "after we discuss it, I always like it better. You gain some insight from your fellow members and find it a more worthwhile read than I would have thought."

People sitting around table
“Kingsblood Royal” by Sinclair Lewis lays on a table during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

MacDonnell is one of the founding members of the group. She started it with a friend who has since moved away, but who still comes up to visit occasionally. MacDonnell invited some co-workers from Laura MacArthur Elementary School in Duluth, who invited some more friends.

Eventually, the first meeting to discuss "Angela's Ashes" by Frank McCourt had 11 attendees. Though the initial population has changed in the 25 years due to deaths, divorces, life changes and moves, the club still has around 11 active members.

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People sitting around table
Dale Shimmin, left, and Joan MacDonell, both of Duluth, grab dinner during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday in South Range.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

What's the secret to getting people to keep meeting after 25 years?

"We like each other," said member Lyn Kaim. "We look forward to it and we have a big enough list that even if a couple of people can't shake it, there's still a group."

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They also make accommodations to make the commitment easier. The group continues to meet in the summer, but on Thursday nights instead of Fridays to allow for people to travel on the weekends. They also turned December into "Poetry Month" and request members to bring or write a poem to share with the group to allow for the busyness that comes with the holiday season. And even if a member doesn't manage to fully complete the book in time for the meeting, Kaim said they're still allowed to come and take part in the meeting.

"We spend a lot of our time visiting, so they're definitely invited to take part in that," said club secretary Anita Fraundorf. "We try to be understanding of each other."

How does the club decide what to read? Fraundorf said there are many ways. Mostly, if someone suggests a book, they are then encouraged to lead the discussion on that book. For example, member Dale Shimmin asked the group a few questions to spur discussion on their latest read, "Candide" by Voltaire.

People sitting around table
Joan MacDonell, of Duluth, consults her notes while discussing “Candide” by Voltaire during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday in South Range.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"I think it brings up important questions about looking at life and what it's about," Shimmin said. "I read it for the first time in a world literature class in college and I've picked it back up a couple of times since then."

People sitting around table
Dale Shimmin, of Duluth, talks about the book "Candide" by Voltaire during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Overall, the book received mixed reviews from members of the club, getting two or three out of five stars. It's the second-oldest book the club has read together, the oldest being "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare, which they read for a spooky change one October.

Sometimes they'll pick up a book because it's recently been banned somewhere, such as the graphic novel "Maus" by Art Spiegelman, which was banned by a Tennessee school board in January. Every year, the club also tackles Duluth's city-wide read. Kaim said they like to ensure they read local authors as well.

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"We try to get a variety of genres," Fraundorf said. "We had meetings where we brought in a favorite children's book or read something that's big in young adult fiction. We even had people bring their favorite cookbooks one night."

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But one book that the club has never, and likely will never, read is "The Bridges of Madison County." It's oddly the book that drew member Connie Peterson to the group.

People sitting around table
Anita Fraundorf, of Duluth, holds the archives of the book club during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

"We had a member, Jane, who just loved the book and wanted to have us all read it, but we rebelled," MacDonnell said.

"And I had a neighbor who told me to read it and I did and it was just so incredibly bad," Peterson said. "And I told Joan about it and she told me about her club not wanting to read it and that's how I joined."

For the Christmas book exchange one year, someone bought Jane a copy of the book, which Peterson said she appreciated.

Next month's book is "Kingsblood Royal" by Sinclair Lewis. The tentative plan is to read the book and meet with a picnic near the house in Duluth where Lewis stayed while he wrote it.

This story was updated at 4:58 p.m. Aug. 29 to correct the spelling of Lyn Kaim's last name in a photo caption. It was originally posted at 8:24 a.m. Aug. 29. The News Tribune regrets the error.

People sitting around table
A former one-room schoolhouse, now the home of the Ross family, seen during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
People sitting around table
The entryway to the Ross home in South Range.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
People sitting around table
Joan MacDonell, from left, Anita Fraundorf and Terry Ross laugh together during a meeting of the Friday Night Culture Club on Thursday.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Related Topics: BOOKSDULUTHTWIN PORTS
Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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