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Advocate - Lake Highlands (October 2009)

Read Their Lips

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Women of their word Lake Highlands Book Review Club members, some for 50 years and counting, are bound by more than their tomes alone Book review clubs are rather trendy these days, but one of Dallas’ oldest and most popular is the Lake Highlands Book Review Club, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. At a year-end luncheon, three of the club’s founding members, Maxine Cox, Betty Money and Mildred McClinney, shared the secret behind why they launched the group. “I was pregnant and sick as a dog and needed something to get my mind off my body!” McClinney says. “Yeah, we needed to get away from babies,” Cox chimes in, and the women burst into a hearty round of laughter. They all had small children at the time, and traded off baby-watching responsibilities. McClinney, who was the organist at Lake Highlands United Methodist Church in the ’60s, knew a slew of women and “called on every one of them [she] could think of to join the club.” Since then, book reviewers have been breathing life into literature, to the delight of ladies in the club. These book reviewers aren’t highbrow critics, however, whose big words might make or break book sales. No, these reviewers are usually a cross between literary lecturers and stand-up comics, and sometimes they even perform music. They don’t expect their audiences to discuss or even read the books they review, and are primarily there to entertain (and perhaps partially for the tea and finger sandwiches). The charter members count Lillian Tate, Helen Poe and Evelyn Oppenheimer among their favorite early speakers. “I think they are all dead now,” Money says. They all agree that Rose-Mary Rumbley is their most-liked modern day, living-and-active speaker. Some reviewers such as Dave Tanner and Judy Moore, tack music associated with a book onto their acts. “They might play Hollywood tunes or music we liked when we were young,” Cox says. The club today, as it was 50 years ago, is as much about camaraderie as it is about literature. Members say they enjoy getting acquainted with the books without necessarily having to read them. “We didn’t have time to read, so we’d listen to the book reviewers,” Cox says. The current book club president, Janelle Krumbholz, who has a fondness for non-fiction, says she usually waits until after listening to the book club reviewers before deciding whether or not she wishes to dedicate time to reading a particular book. As the president of a club that currently has more than 100 members, Krumbholz says her job is fairly simple. It is the vice president who has to book the speakers. That job has fallen on Carol Filpot for the past year “I came in and I really enjoyed the reviewers, and the ladies are nice and wonderful and we like getting together,” Filpot says. At the summer lunch, Filpot took up her new role as president, and Cox, Money and McClinney were honored in front of the group for founding the club that has introduced so many women to so many interesting characters, both real and imagined. —Christina Hughes Babb Meet reviewer Penny Terk “Book review clubs” are different from “book clubs” — members aren’t expected to read the featured literature. In fact, they usually don’t. Instead, they join so they can experience charismatic entertainers who bring characters and stories to life. Members also seem to enjoy the camaraderie among women in the group, and sometimes, if they are so inclined, they will pick up a copy of the book on their way out. Penny Terk is the ex-actress and book reviewer who founded pennyterk.com, the go-to organization for clubs looking for reviewers, such as the Lake Highlands Book Review Club. As soon as I reached Terk by phone, I learned she was a spirited woman — she snapped at me when she thought I was trying to sell her advertising, and then apologized profusely when I told her I just wanted an interview. It’s that honesty and straightforwardness, she says, that helps her connect with an audience. “If they know you are sincere, women are quick to connect with you. As an actress, I feel the material. I try to be honest and sincere so that they will connect with that material and with me,” she says. Terk caught the book-reviewing bug almost 20 years ago when a friend brought her along to a presentation. “I thought to myself, ‘I could do that,’” she says. At her first gig, Terk feared she was going to have to run out the door. “I fell into character, and the ladies were looking at each other seeming a little shocked. I was glad to be near an exit,” she says. “But at the end, they were giggling and winking at each other, and I realized they liked it.” Sensing a need to dispense information about herself and others like her, Terk first tried putting together a phone book, and later, because the information kept becoming outdated, she “dragged all of them kicking and screaming into cyberspace” — hence, the birth of pennyterk.com about 12 years ago. Terk now travels Dallas’ book review club circuit, wowing audiences at the Lake Highlands book review club at least once a year. The book she most enjoys bringing to the stage? “There’s one that is always on my list — ‘Secrets Under the Bridge’ by Overton Shelmire. It’s the bio of the Dallas architect who designed the Anatole Hotel, and it’s just a wonderful history of Dallas here in the 1930s.” —Christina Hughes Babb

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