A good book title often hints at the story within. The same goes for Little Rock’s long-running Potpourri Book Club.
Founded by Charlotte Gadberry in 1967, the club has gone through many rosters and reading lists, but its name, chosen to reflect the diverse collection of its members, lives on.
Gadberry, a native of Harrison who honed her love of reading in the town’s one-room library, moved out of state thanks to her husband’s job. But when he later took a job in Little Rock, she was determined to make new friends and formed the monthly club.
Some members were natives of other states, some practiced different religious faiths and all had backgrounds diverging from one another.
“We liked the diversity,” Gadberry says. “We really did.”
The Potpourri Book Club was formed at a time when fewer women worked and Gadberry and many peers had young children keeping them at home.
“It was the rare woman who might be a secretary or a nurse or a teacher,” Gadberry says.
Then, as now, the club had 16 members who were divided into four reading groups. The women were tasked with choosing a book and providing copies to each group with a two-month lead time so the members could read the selection.
“Each reviewer reviewed in a different way,” Gadberry says. “Some got more involved in the story, and others talked about the author and a small bit of the story and then opened it up for discussion.”
The reading lists have long been a mix of mainstream and contemporary novels alongside classic works. Gadberry favors historical novels and biographies, but says the club has been valuable in introducing stories some readers might have never chosen.
The club gathers for more than just book talk, hosting social events like dinner parties and brunches where they bring books to donate to nonprofits like the Methodist Children’s Home and the Centers for Youth and Families.
There have also been a few adventures for the Potpourri women, including a road trip to Blytheville to meet Arkansas-born novelist John Grisham.
And, just as the club has interested women in books they might not have chosen, it has created friendships that otherwise might not have been made.
“Many of us were not best friends, but we’ve become best friends just through the book club,” Gadberry says. “We want to see you and know what you’re doing.”
Just like its membership, the reading list of the Potpourri Book Club has been quite diverse in its 50 years. Modern classics like Elizabeth Gilbert’s "Eat, Pray, Love" share space on the club’s reading lists with stalwarts like “To Kill a Mockingbird" and "East of Eden."
Among the many tales of life and death, love and adventure, truth and fiction, several stand out for of the vitality of the discussions they provoked and their provocative and memorable content. Charlotte Gadberry shares some of the titles that loom large in the book club’s history.
"The Year of Living Biblically"
“One man’s effort to experience the Bible, find out what’s good in it and what may not be relevant to the 21st century — it’s both fascinating, entertaining and informative, and caused a lively discussion.”
“This is a historical fiction novel which tells the story of two sisters in France during World War II and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation of France. It was inspired by the story of a Belgian woman, Andrée de Jongh, who helped downed Allied pilots to escape Nazi territory. Discussion of this book brought to mind the many brave historical figures during the U.S. wars.”
Daphne du Maurier
“This is a thriller novel which sold 2,829,313 copies between its publication in 1938 and 1965, and the book has never gone out of print. The novel is remembered especially for the character Mrs. Danvers and the fictional estate Manderley.”
“A debut novel about a 50-year-old woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, it is both touching and educational and constructs a great discussion about this dreaded disease that attacks so many friends.”
"Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life"
“This nonfiction book is a memoir of Lisa Najeeb Halaby. This American-born queen dowager of Jordan was the widow of King Hussein [of Jordan]. She was his fourth spouse and queen consort between their marriage in 1978 and his death in 1999. The book is really a tribute to her husband, a love song in a sense. We loved learning not only about her journey as Queen Noor and marriage to the King of Jordan, but the historical events in which they were involved.”