Leaside Reads – a different book club

Sandra Whittaker
SANDRA Whittaker at work.

The reminder email arrives every four weeks, its subject line proclaiming, Trade Date! It is time for 49 Leaside residents to deliver the books they’ve just finished reading to their next destinations, and to eagerly await the new title that will appear on each of their doorsteps.

Such is the nature of our neighbourhood’s alternative to the traditional book club: Leaside Reads.

Sandra Whittaker, Brentcliffe Rd. has been organizing the popular book trade for seven years. The program runs October to summer and offers nearly a year’s worth of reading for the cost of only one hardcover.

Each year, toward the end of the summer, Whittaker puts out the call for interested parties. She divides the names into groups and compiles a schedule for each group that outlines which “first” book each member has been assigned, and where and when they must pass each subsequent title.

At the end of the trade year, participants keep their final book.

The program began roughly 12 years ago as a spinoff of the North Leaside Women’s Group, but when Whittaker assumed leadership, she opened it up to the entire Leaside community. Over the years, the group has been comprised almost entirely of women, but she maintains that men are welcome to join.

Members enjoy the convenience, the diversity of the reading materials, and need to buy only one book.

“Being a member of Leaside Reads has given me the opportunity to read a variety of books that normally I might not have chosen,” says Sally Belanger, of Divadale Dr. Laurel Vanderjagt, also of Divadale, says, “It has allowed me to discover new authors without making a trip to the bookstore or library.”

Among the most appealing features of Leaside Reads is the fact that it doesn’t require members to attend or to host meetings, to take part in discussions, or even to read every book. If a particular title does not appeal, it can simply be put aside until the next trade date.

Whittaker puts extensive research and consideration into the selection of the books. She studies newspaper reviews, literary prize shortlists, and online discussion groups; she makes multiple trips to the bookstore to peruse the shelves, and consults with bookstore owner and literary expert Ben McNally.

The list typically boils down to 12 current, critically-acclaimed titles from such genres as contemporary, historical, and crime fiction, and while Whittaker admits that over the years there has been the occasional “bomb,” most of the titles have been very well received.

Whittaker’s own take on Leaside Reads? “I can’t imagine not doing it!”

Not only is she a booklover of the highest order, she enjoys the research and the organization of the program, and claims that the day the box of new books arrives at her door is almost as exciting to her as Christmas morning.

Leaside can look forward to many years of good reading ahead.