Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Alumni Spotlight

Members of a Princeton women’s book group in Los Angeles, from left: Kristina Lerman ’89, Katherine Fox Franklin ’90, Meredith Caliman ’82, Marilyn Sanders, Margaret Redmond Kenny ’91, Tatiana Blackington James, Rachel Kaganoff Stern ’86, Karen Sullivan Sibert ’74, Urbashi Mitra *94, Deborah Teltscher ’77, and Susan Smith Bjerre ’74.

(Courtesy Andrew Gold)

October 24, 2007:

ALUMNI CONNECTIONS-Los Angeles book group
Exchanging ideas and friendship

Once a month a group of Princeton women in Los Angeles make time for each other and for good books. There’s a doctor, a lawyer, a physicist, a screenwriter, an electrical engineer, and an architect among the group. Almost all of them have children. Despite their busy lives, they savor their literary soirees.

Says Karen Sullivan Sibert ’74, an anesthesiologist who has been a member since she moved to Los Angeles in 1998: “I go to considerable lengths to switch my call schedule so that I can come to meetings. It’s an important little island in my month.”

Rachel Kaganoff Stern ’86, a political activist, founded the book group in April 1997 as part of the Princeton Women’s Network in Los Angeles. Seven alumnae have been with it since its start. Of the 11 current club members, all but two are Princeton alumnae.

They read mostly novels and a mixture of current and classics, from On Beauty by Zadie Smith to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind. They primarily read women authors, but they do make the occasional exception for books by Princeton-related male authors: The Middle East (History of Civilization) by professor emeritus of Near Eastern studies Bernard Lewis and The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell ’98 and Dustin Thomason.

These women are serious readers. Occasionally, they tackle two books at a time. When they read On Beauty they also examined the classic on which it was modeled, E.M. Forster’s Howards End. They don’t talk just about the plot and what characters they like or don’t like; they delve into the story structure and literary devices like point of view.

Most of the members, says Sibert, “feel that if we didn’t make a commitment to read one good book a month, we wouldn’t do it, and that would be a loss of the life of the mind that we all treasured about college.”

They are serious, but not too serious. Members can attend meetings — which start at 7 p.m. over wine, extend over dinner, and end around 10:30 p.m. — even if they haven’t read the book. As the years have passed the meetings have become more free-form, says Meredith Caliman ’82, a lawyer who is one of the original members and the unofficial scribe, keeping a list of all the books read. So there’s plenty of time for catching up on their personal lives. At one meeting, says Sibert, they digressed from the book at hand to discuss the pros and cons of plastic surgery. At the May meeting’s discussion of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, they dressed up in vintage clothes and celebrated Sibert’s birthday.

“We’ve all gotten very close as a group,” says Sibert. “The only thing we have trouble with is we often spend so much time chatting about personal things that we don’t get to the book until later than we mean to.” P

By K.F.G.