Members of the Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club during their November meeting from L to R:Kate Neale-Hughes , Laurie Dawson, Janaya Fuller-Evans, Grace Burns, Alessandra Pagliardi, Karen Boroevich Leeden (Submitted)

Books and lifelong bonds: Meet the Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club

“I think the group of people… that’s what makes this a special club."

By Simran Singh | November 29, 2021 |5:00 am

It can be hard to commit to finishing a book. After a long day of work and dealing with a myriad of other responsibilities, we often find ourselves exhausted and ready to watch TV or scroll through social media instead of using our remaining brainpower to dive into a novel.

But a group of Burnaby women aren’t making excuses when it comes to being committed readers. And, as it turns out, they’ve also managed to forge lifelong friendships while doing so.

When you first hear of the Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club, you may not really know what to think. Is it a secret society for those who want to duke it out for their favourite book? Do these folks down several glasses of wine before going to battle for a novel they think reigns supreme?

Well, kind of.

The Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club is made up of women who live in the Forest Grove community, a tight-knit neighbourhood located at the foot of Burnaby Mountain.

Burnaby Beacon had a chance to sit down and chat with 5 of the book club’s members: Naomi Anderson, Grace Burns, Laurie Dawson, Kate Neale-Hughes, and Alessandra Pagliardi, to learn how this group of readers came to be.

Members of the Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club during their November book club meeting. (Submitted)

To understand how the Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club originated, you first need to know a few things about the neighbourhood itself.

“[Forest Grove is] a very unique community. It’s like living in a small town here,” Pagliardi told the Beacon. “There’s a very, very, very strong community spirit that’s prevalent. So there’s a lot of community activism in the neighbourhood, of course, around the pipeline, there’s a running group, there’s community gardens that are springing up around the neighbourhood. It’s just a very special community.”

As for how the group formed, it started like how many folks meet these days: on social media.

“So, we have a very prolific … [community] Facebook group and so someone posted an invite to have a book club,” explained Pagliardi. This was back in 2018 and now the club has grown to include 15 members.

Dawson told the Beacon that her interest to join came after she realized she hadn’t picked up a book to read for fun in a very long time.

“[Reading] was something I loved doing my whole life and then just recently realized I’m not reading anymore. It’s just work or home …or commute, ” she said. Not only has the book club allowed Dawson to get back into reading, but it has also given her a newfound sense of appreciation for her community.

“This book club, what it did is it opened up the whole Forest Grove Drive for me,” she said. “The coolest people live along this road.”

With a name like The Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club, the book club definitely adds to the neighbourhood’s cool factor.

The group, however, is a bit foggy about how the book club’s name was picked.

“I remember that one of the other members of the club was involved in it way at the very beginning, but I’m not exactly sure how it came to be,” said Anderson. “ I just remember thinking ‘wow, this is really cool, so I’m on board.’”

Pagliardi said the name was “an amalgamation of many suggestions” but eventually it was one member named Emily, who was able to make the final decision.

While the origin story of the book club’s name remains a bit fuzzy, what happened at the first book club meeting remains a memorable night.

“The first meeting, there was a little too much wine involved and we were all very, very, very, excited to be out of our homes away from our children, and meeting people around the same age for the most part… So it was a very late night.”

“Early morning,” quipped Neale-Hughes.

The passion and enthusiasm that was ignited during that first meeting have only grown.

“We’ve had some very heated and spirited discussions,” added Pagliardi.

The books are where the spirited discussions stem from and when it comes to choosing what to read, the process is quite simple. The group takes turns hosting the book club meeting. Whoever is the host gets to pick three books and the members choose a winner through a poll on the group’s Facebook page.

The Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club’s top book picks. (Burnaby Beacon)

Dawson describes the process of choosing a book as a “mini CBC reads.”

“The host gives a pitch for each book and usually with the host, it’s books they really want to read but need help decided,” she said, adding that the choices can range from anything from “gut flora to Canadian literature to murder mystery.”

And like any democratic process, there are many differing opinions and even disagreements at times.

“The books aren’t always good,” joked Anderson.

But even when the chosen book isn’t a crowd favourite, the group seems to always find ways to make the gathering memorable, with food, drinks, and other special additions.

The club always has treats on deck like these spooky Halloween pastries from Punk Rock Pastries (Supplied).

“It’s almost like a potluck… some of the people make fantastic, delicious things,” said Dawson. The group also enjoys grabbing treats from Punk Rock Pastries (known for their funky and one-of-a-kind desserts) to sweeten up the meetings.

For one book club session, Anderson invited author Eileen Cook to attend because the group was discussing her book One Lie Too Many that evening.

The gatherings also get pretty festive. One year, Anderson’s dad dressed up as Santa to surprise attendees and their kids.

The club has evolved into a group that has bonded over both books and friendship. It continues to thrive because of the sense of connection it provides.

The time when Santa paid a visit to the book club pre-COVID. (Supplied)

Neale-Hughes explained the book club served as an outlet for her while she was doing her Master’s degree. Even though she was taking a break from reading to focus on her thesis, she still attended book club meetings.

“[The group] welcomed me into the meetings anyway so I could participate and essentially have a break from the hell that was thesis writing,” she said. “So I still got that sense of community and compassion.”

For Burns, the club was an opportunity for her to get to actually know her neighbours.

“When this book club started I got super excited because I got to meet some of the women in the neighbourhood and have some socializing nearby,” she said.

During the early days of the pandemic, the group decided to take a break.

“The focus had to shift to family and working from home and what that was going to mean for people,” said Anderson. “The thing I think about this book club that is really special is that even though we did take a break we didn’t disband … it didn’t just fall apart and I think that’s because people who are in this book club are incredible people.”

Anderson has since moved to Nanaimo but during the interview she affirmed there was “no way” she will be leaving the club.

After all, The Forest Groovy Wine and Literary Fight Club has a story of its own, that continues to grow and flourish thanks to one key element.

“I think the group of people… that’s what makes this a special club,” revealed Anderson.

“Not the fact that we get together and read books. It’s the people.”

Simran Singh

Managing Editor at Burnaby Beacon

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