I bought this book over 30 years ago and have read it over and over again. It's a long read and takes dedication to get through it but your effort will be rewarded. My first copy fell apart after repeated readings but I managed to source a replacement through Amazon a few years ago and it is also now available on Kindle.
Set in the aftermath of the American Civil War, the main thread of the story centres around a Literary Appreciation Society set up by the ladies of the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio. They meet monthly and take turns to write and deliver a paper on a topic set for them by the committee. Like an early book club - but more daunting!
The youngest members of the club are two young ladies - Sally Cochran and Anne Alexander - who have just graduated from high school and are excited to be asked to join the new society but nervous about making a good impression on the venerable society ladies of the club.
The club meetings are the thread that runs through the narrative but there is so much more to this epic novel with insights into all aspects of small town life in southern America. The story follows Sally and Anne through courtship and marriage, children and the various projects they get involved in - including setting up the town's first lending library.
There is a lot of interesting historical detail in this book, covering the fallout from the Civil War (Anne's doctor husband is a veteran of the conflict) and quite a lot of politics as Sally's husband Ludwig manages the challenges at his ropeworks business and gets involved in electioneering.
First Published 1982