OAKLAND -- Ask Carole King and Judith Offer about the memorable books they've read in the Crocker Highlands book group, and their answers go a long way toward explaining how this group has flourished over the past 25 years.

Both clearly remember so many details, characters and situations surrounding discussions that their love for books of varying subjects and appreciation for the group are clearly evident.

"I remember a couple of memoirs, 'Life and Death in Shanghai' and 'Daughter of Iran,' that we talked about for years," King said.

"The book that made an impression on everyone was the 'Mary Chestnut's Diary,' " said Offer, one of the original members. "Another great book I loved was 'Lincoln at Gettysburg.' "

King came up with the idea for a book group in 1987 after hearing others discuss the then-fairly new concept.

"I thought, 'how wonderful to be able to talk to people about books,' " she said.

She shared her idea with other women in her Crocker Highlands neighborhood. They questioned what separated book groups that flourished from those that failed. And the women's answers and the ultimate plan they chose offered insights into the group's longevity.

King wanted to hold meetings within walking distances and to make it clear that the group was for women who liked books.

"Our first book, 'Patricide in the House Divided,' was very ambitious," she said. "That really separated the readers from the nonreaders."


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Her idea was to have 11 members and meet 11 months of the year in order that each member host and select a book once a year.

The group meets the fourth Tuesday of every month except December. The person who's chosen the book is responsible for doing research and starting the meeting, presenting something about the author such as a biographical sketch, other books or related topics in society at the time.

"We think that the more you know about something, the more interesting it is," King said. "At the end of the night, I feel like I did something different."

Currently, there is one associate and 12 full-time members. Along with King and Offer, four remain from the original 11: Janet Bensick, Marge Maloney, Stephanie McNicholas and Gail Roche Van Wye. Six members joined 20 years ago and the last reader joined 10 years ago. All are well-educated, involved in a wide range of pursuits and, most importantly, have many interests -- including American history, Eastern Europe, 19th century literature and social science research -- that influence their choice of books.

Sharing enthusiasms with the group is one factor King and Offer feel has kept the book group vital. "People select books tied to their special interests, so they know a lot about it and make it interesting for others," King said.

Another important factor almost goes without saying. "I think everybody in the group just sincerely loves to read," Offer said. "Even if they weren't in our group, they'd have their noses in books all the time."

Both women value having this cohesive force within their neighborhood.

"For me to have a group I get to meet with and get to know has really given me an emotional home in the neighborhood that has persisted and has been really important," King said. "These are my friends, the people I've shared so much with."

"It's been really interesting to watch over a long period of time, people from other backgrounds or with different points of view," Offer said.

Twenty-five years and 275 books later, King and Offer still laugh over a book they read, "And the Ladies of the Club," about a book group that didn't actually read all the books.

"I don't think we got over that for two years," Offer said.

It was just one book among many and as far as King is concerned, she'll be reading and sharing more for years to come.