From the Historian: Books Between Bites — a special lunchtime collaboration

Anita Mance

During the 1960s, a lunchtime tradition brought East Rochester high schoolers, faculty and village residents together. In a true collaborative effort, people of various ages and backgrounds came to school to enjoy book reviews.

It began in 1960, when Mrs. Jean Doremus, a member of the Friends of the ER Public Library, saw the value of having high school students and adults come together to share the joy of reading. 

Modeled after the Rochester Public Library’s Books Sandwiched In, ER’s Books Between Bites would take place during the school day at lunch time. With the lunch break being almost an hour long, the time frame was perfect. 

Six student council members, the high school librarian and principal, the head of the English department, four “housewives” of the Friends, the director of the Public Library and the president of the library board met to discuss the possibilities. It was decided that the sessions would meet on occasional Thursdays in the music room (later moved to the large group instruction room to accommodate more people). Attendees would bring their lunches, with milk and coffee available to purchase at the door. 

In order for there to be enough space, reservations were needed — students and faculty through school and residents through the Public Library. Book titles were taken from various book lists and agreed upon. Rochester area personalities were chosen to speak. The speakers received box lunches from the Friends. High school students would introduce the speakers and during the year, one or two seniors would do a review. Each year, copies of the scheduled review series were distributed in school and at the Public Library, as well as being listed in the newspaper.

And so, in January 1961, the program began with Loftus Carson (a teacher from Rochester’s Ben Franklin High School) reviewing “Stride Toward Freedom” by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Over the years, the books discussed were as varied as the backgrounds of the speakers. Some of the reviews included “Act One,” an autobiography by Moss Hart, reviewed by Barry Tuttle, producer of Town and Country Musicals; “CIA: The Inside Story” by Andrew Tully, reviewed by John Baynes, ER basketball coach and guidance counselor; “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, reviewed by William Clay, local attorney; “Carnival: The Musical” dramatized by Mrs. Leo August; “Exodus” by Leon Uris, reviewed by Rabbi Phillip Bernstein; and “Fathers to Sons: Advice Without Consent” by Alan Valentine, reviewed by ER Superintendent Lewis Obourn and senior Bob Bouchard. 

East Rochester student Bob Niles, Class of 1963, reviews “A Time to Stand” by Robert Lord.

The Books Between Bites program ran from 1961 to 1967, ending when revised fall scheduling at the high school did not allow enough lunch time for the groups to meet. During that time, six to 12 reviews were presented each year. The program was so popular that candidates for Student Council president often included it in their platforms. 

Nationally recognized for its collaborative value, Books Between Bites proved the potential for creating a chance for shared ideas over a bridge of books. By taking time out from hectic days, it proved that mutual respect and understanding can result from seeing life through each other’s eyes.

Anita Mance serves as historian for the town/village of East Rochester.