When one group of Washington women found out the new White House chief of staff read the C.S. Forester novel “The General” every time he was promoted during his career, they put the book next on their reading list.
Their book club is a non-political, unstructured, low-pressure space for book lovers and networking women founded by a Capitol Hill staffer looking for just that.
Krista Harvey, staff director for the House Homeland Security Transportation and Protective Security Subcommittee, started the club in April and it has taken off in a matter of months.
“When we started the group, we just decided to email out to all the great women we know in D.C., both on and off the Hill, House, Senate, Republicans and Democrats,” Harvey said, “and we always encourage people to bring a friend so the club continues to grow and it continues to be sort of a forum for women in Washington to get together and get to know each other.”
The most recent meeting on Aug. 9 was attended by about 20 people because many women were traveling for recess. About 80 percent or so of the women who attended were congressional staffers, a number that has steadily increased since the first meeting.
The book discussed was “What It Takes: The Way to the White House” by Richard Ben Cramer.
The club is an organic way to bring together women from both sides of the aisle, both chambers, in senior-level jobs, and junior ones. For every meeting, attendees are encouraged to bring a friend — no matter her career in D.C.
Harvey’s idea started with her office. Four of the six subcommittees of the Homeland Security panel are headed by women.
“We have great women in our office, and we were trying to think of something fun to do that was not work-related, not political,” she said.
And, Harvey, like a lot of people who work in D.C., has had difficulty finding time to read.
“I’ve been wanting to read more this year,” she said. “It was my New Year’s resolution and I haven’t really delivered on that. So I thought maybe if I started a book club, I’ll feel the pressure. That was sort of how the idea was born.”
The July book was “Murder in the White House” by Margaret Truman, President Harry Truman’s daughter.
Most books have been Washington-themed.
“We said the next book will be non-D.C. We don’t want to become too inside-the-Beltway,” Harvey said. “We have a very democratic process.”
She added, “At the first club, we made a long list of all these books we may want to read and then last time, we just sort of were chatting and then one person said a book, and we were like, all right, that’s it.”
While the book club is bipartisan and bicameral, they haven’t read any that might be too political and could lead to awkward conversations.
But, Harvey said, “I wouldn’t be opposed to doing that. I think the goal is for it to bring people together and not be too divisive but I think it could be interesting.”