Six months ago, I joined a book club for the first time in my life. Actually this one calls itself a “group,” not a “club.” I have no idea what the difference is since most of us think of book groups as those you join on Facebook. At any rate, henceforth in this post I will refer to it as a book group.
I’ve lived in my town for just a little more than a year, so I was excited last July when a neighbor, whom I actually got to know at my local rec center, found out I was an author, and invited me to join. I had no expectation of the group reading my books, or even talking about them, which, it turns out, I was right to assume. I was happy about this, actually, because it allowed me to be just a regular member – no pressure.
I always kind of figured I didn’t have time to belong to a book group (or club) because I’m an avid reader as it is, and the rest of the time I’m writing, or doing all the other activities life requires. Besides, I didn’t really want to be pressured into reading stuff I didn’t want to read and, also, I’d always heard that book clubs were, for the most part, excuses to drink wine and talk about men. I can do that on my own time.
Nevertheless, when I was invited to join this particular group, I was grateful, because it meant having a chance to meet some people in my new town, and get to know my neighbor as well, who seemed very nice. Lo and behold, I stumbled into the book group of my dreams, if, indeed, I had any dreams along those lines. First of all, this group has been going for twenty-five years. Twenty-five! Only four of the original members are still a part of it, but the remaining twelve or so have been members for much of that time as well. I was truly the newbie. They gave me the list of books for the remainder of the year, and I was pleased to see I’d already read two of them. The book I was obliged to read for the upcoming meeting wasn’t really my cup of tea: a mystery, and I’m not a big fan of mysteries, but it was pretty good, and I kind of laid low that first meeting anyway.
The group meets at 7:00 at night, the 2nd Thursday of the month, and rotates the location among the members, who all live in the same general vicinity. The women are mostly around my age. All of them are incredibly intelligent and interesting – the kind of women who get things done – strong women who have made a difference in their community over the years. As a matter of fact, every Thanksgiving, they coordinate to donate an entire Thanksgiving meal to a teen shelter, and I was thrilled to participate this year.
At the meetings we gather and engage in small talk for fifteen minutes or so, then begin discussing the book, which may or may not lead to discussions of other matters related to it. Immigration was a big one related to two books we read this fall. At about 8:30, the hostess of the evening serves dessert, coffee, and tea, and then we have more chit chat, and then disperse, though the format may change depending on the venue. Every April is poetry month.
This last September they celebrated their 25th year anniversary by having a barbecue at the home of one of the women who lives in a condo along the river, so we ate al fresco, and everyone brought something. Oh, did I mention? They can really cook, too! Our December meeting was at the home of a lady who’s been quilting her whole life, and she had these lovely Christmas quilts scattered about so we could wrap up in them while enjoying the cozy fire in her fireplace and a beautiful view of snowy hills out a grand picture window. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.
Actually, I disliked the book we read this month – very much so. The others all liked it. Yet, not only did I feel comfortable expressing my opinion on it, we ended up getting to the core of why I didn’t like it – almost like a therapy session. There was no judgement, just support and a good, rousing discussion. I’m genuinely growing to like these women a lot, and feel I’m forming a closeness with a couple of them in particular.
Finally, I’d like to share with you a few of the books they’ve read over the last 25 years (yes, they keep a list); ones that I’ve read as well, and really loved, though this is just a fraction of their entire list. There’s only one Jane Austen in the mix: Northanger Abbey (which I happen to be re-reading at the moment). Please let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these, and/or if you belong to a book club and what the experience is like for you. This is new, and delightful, territory for me.
In chronological order:
- Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan
- Cold Sassy Tree – Olive Ann Burns
- The Restaurant at the End of the Universe – Douglas Adams
- Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
- The Bean Trees and Pigs in Heaven – Barbara Kingsolver
- Snow Falling on Cedars – David Gunderson
- Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
- Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
- Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
- Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk
- Atonement – Ian McEwan
- Life of Pi – Yann Martel
- Washington Square – Henry James
- Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
- The Hummingbird’s Daughter – Luis Alberto Urrea
- The Book Thief – Markus Zusah
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
- To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
- The Eyre Affair – Jasper Ffords
- Just Kids – Patti Smith
- The Neruda Case – Roberto Ampuro
- The Book of Unknown Americans – Christina Henriquez