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Susan Hagstrum and Steven Miles

Susan Hagstrum introduces Steven Miles, who wrote the book Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror, at the last Friends of Eastcliff Book Club gathering.

Eastcliff book club tradition continues

By Rick Moore

Nov. 14, 2006

This book club has all the requisite ingredients for success: a cozy living room, a crackling fire in the fireplace and stimulating conversation with a group of eclectic friends.

And there's a bonus, too; in this case, the living room is in a stately, historic house on the banks of the Mississippi--Eastcliff, the home of University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks and his wife, Susan Hagstrum. "Bob and I view it as one of the U's best gathering places," Hagstrum says, "[so] why not use it for intellectual conversations?"

The Friends of Eastcliff Book Club was created in the spring of 2004 by the fund-raising group Friends of Eastcliff to promote the sharing of literature and ideas and to showcase University authors--faculty, staff, alumni or others with a strong connection to the U.

And while Hagstrum runs the show and introduces the author, President Bruininks is also a devoted participant. "I'm the host, but Bob always attends as well," Hagstrum says, "so it's an opportunity to have a conversation in the president's living room with the president present."

In two-plus years, the Friends of Eastcliff Book Club has been a huge success, Hagstrum says, with 15 or 20 attendees "who never miss a one," and dozens of others who attend occasionally.

The books chosen by a committee for the club span a range of topics, from the poignant and political to the wry and whimsical.

The last selection was the book Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror by U physician Steven Miles. Hagstrum says she was impressed at how forthcoming Miles was in discussing his experiences with the book and his reactions to what he learned about the role of medical professionals in the abuse and neglect of prisoners in U. S. military prisons. Those kinds of revelations by an author are another benefit of the book club. "People get a sense of not only the book and the topic, but what it's like to be a writer and putting something like this together," she adds.

"You can meet an author who is either a famous scholar or a celebrity in the community, and enjoy a friendly, casual conversation in a relaxed atmosphere," Hagstrum says. "It's an intellectually stimulating activity, and it doesn't require a lot of preparation."

"Some of the books we've chosen are really dense," Hagstrum says. "We're trying to lighten up and have a lot of diversity."

As something of an antidote to the weight of last month's selection, the next gathering on Dec. 4 will feature James Lileks, a University of Minnesota graduate and columnist for the Star Tribune. His book, Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights from the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice, is a laugh-a-minute satire of a collection of ads, photos, and parenting guides from the 1940s and '50s.

Future gatherings will feature authors Bill Swanson (Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson) on Jan. 25, 2007, Faith Sullivan (Cape Ann and Gardenias) on March 1, and David Treuer (The Translation of Dr. Apelles) on April 17.

Hagstrum encourages anyone who's thinking about taking part in a book club to consider joining the Friends of Eastcliff.

"You can meet an author who is either a famous scholar or a celebrity in the community, and enjoy a friendly, casual conversation in a relaxed atmosphere," she says. "It's an intellectually stimulating activity, and it doesn't require a lot of preparation."

You can join the Friends of Eastcliff--which entitles you to participate in the book club and other activities throughout the year--for an annual membership fee of $100 for an individual or $150 for a couple. Friends of Eastcliff raises funds to preserve and enhance the University's historical residence and gathering place.

Those interested in attending the discussion of Lileks's book on Dec. 4--or any subsequent event--should call 612-627-6800 to reserve a spot, as space may be limited. For more information and to join the book club online, visit Friends of Eastcliff.