May 28, 2018
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Screen-free week and the Persian Pickles

Robin Clifford Wood | BDN
Robin Clifford Wood | BDN
At a recent meeting of the Persian Pickles book discussion group, the group discusses "Six Suspects" by Vikas Swarup.
By Robin Clifford Wood, Special to the BDN

Back in the old days of last century — about 15 years ago — my four children came home from school with information about “TV-turnoff week,” a national spring event where people pledge to find alternatives to the boob tube for seven days. Adapting to the head-spinning pace of technology, the event lives on as “screen-free week.” It will take place this year from April 30 to May 6. In support of that fine initiative, I’d like to propose an activity inspired by my status as a Persian Pickle.

Much as I love to write, I am a reader first and a writer second. There are a lot of potential benefits to a screen-free week: time spent outdoors, face-to-face time with friends and family, exercise and idle time to think, dream, create and play. To me, though, nothing is more important than reading. Even better is reading with a shared purpose, and that is what book groups are all about.

In 1996, a couple of local women with connections to the medical community decided to start a book group. One of their first shared books was “The Persian Pickle Club” by Sandra Dallas. Because their book group reminded them of the women’s quilting club in Dallas’ book (and since they all had a sense of humor), they adopted the book’s name and became the Persian Pickles. Fifteen years and 150 books later, the Persian Pickles are still going strong, and I count myself lucky to have joined them when I moved here 10 years ago. Everyone in the group loves to read, but a book group takes reading beyond the realm of solitary occupation. It offers a place to digest what you have read, to delve deeper into the background of a book and its author, to hear others’ opinions and thoughts and to share your own.

At our most recent meeting, a few members talked about what they like about the book group.

“You read stuff you’d never pick up on your own.”

“Even when I don’t like the book, I really enjoy the discussion.”

“It’s the only time I read, because I know there’s a deadline.”

“Sometimes if I didn’t finish, I come to see if I want to bother reading it to the end!”

“I always leave with a greater appreciation for the book than I came with.”

The other attraction is simply making time to sit and talk with others about ideas, people and the vicissitudes of life, just for fun. We incite each other to think and to laugh. A book can be the jumping-off point for connecting with other people — live and in person.

Screen-free week is geared toward children, but I suggest adults can benefit as much as the kids. In this world where many work lives are inextricably dependent upon screens, screen-free may not be possible, but “essential” screen time can be whittled down much further than most of us admit.

Consider this — when we suffer a temporary power outage, despite the inconvenience, it is common to hear people report a sense of liberation. We call upon neighbors, play a game, go for a walk or pull out a book. Without waiting for the power to go out, let’s liberate ourselves for a week at the end of April and see what happens.

I propose that everyone try joining a public book group for screen-free week, or start your own, or set one up for your kids. The Bangor reading ring blog lists several local library reading groups (check other libraries, too).

Not all book groups succeed, but there’s a lot of help out there. If you’d like to start up a child or adult book group, consult with your local librarian or do a little browsing on line.

And here are some tips, compliments of the Persian Pickles:

• State your primary purpose — learning? Socializing? Fun? Diverse literature?

• Start with a formal structure — for meeting times, book selection, membership and discussion format.

• Allow for informality, too — didn’t read? Come anyway! Just prepare to hear what happens at the end.

• Agree to disagree — encourage hot debate but be respectful.

• Share the jobs — for hosting, researching, leading discussion and book selection.

• Listen, laugh and let go.

Robin welcomes your feedback at


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