Word travels fast in the book world.

In this space two weeks ago, the question arose about the oldest book club in the state. I had visited the Moncks Corner-Pinopolis Book Club in Berkeley County, which dates to 1935, and wondered if there were clubs that were older.

Books clubs, by their very nature, exist in their own little world.

In Pinopolis, for instance, they still call the roll by the ladies' married names and they, in turn, respond by naming a book they've read recently.

Because they are private, it's only natural that there are some book clubs we didn't know about. And the ladies in Pinopolis were curious to know where their club ranked in the pecking order.

Sure enough, South Carolina is a treasure trove of book clubs that have been in existence for ages, some more than 100 years.

Rotating library

One of the first I heard from was the Estill Book Club in Hampton County. Lawton O'Cain informed me the club has always had 12 members and meets on the second Wednesday of the month from September through April.

"We've been meeting since Feb. 17, 1913," she said. "And we've never missed a meeting."

While the ladies in Estill are to be commended on their longevity, Nancie Dixon said the Rotary Book Club of Greenville has them beat. With their archives properly stored at Furman University, the Rotary Book Club traces its roots to 1901.

"Members are directed to bring at least one book at the beginning of every year to be shared with the club in a sort of rotating library," Nancie said.

"When we gather on the second Friday of the month between October and May, the available books are displayed. Members return books and select new ones."

There also is the customary eating and socializing before the "ladies of the club" read their creed in unison.

About learning

But wait, there's more.

Elizabeth Edgerton of Rock Hill provided a history of the Perihelion Club that was started in February of 1898. Its history is recorded in the Winthrop University archives.

"It is important for us to consider the value these book clubs had to women of the late 1800s," their history states. "Organizations like the Perihelion provided a social and intellectual outlet for ladies whose opportunities in these areas were, by our standards, sorely limited.

"Books were a way for cultivated women to look beyond the boundaries of their own life and experience ... and to exhibit one's skills as a hostess."

And last but not least, perhaps the oldest known book club in South Carolina, the Up-To-Date Book Club in Chester, began in 1896; it meets on the second Thursday of each month during the winter.

"These are wonderful organizations, " said Ann Marion, one of the club's 20 members. "Book clubs make you learn about things you would not learn about otherwise."

Which is why they've been around so long, and will no doubt continue for many years to come.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598.