The book above is only shown in this post because it prompted a great discussion from my book group; otherwise, I wouldn’t mention it at all. At this busy time for me, simultaneously working and ramping up for a huge solo show, it is a testament to the importance of my book group that I did make the time to read it, as well as attend.
I love my book group. Prior to this book group, I never thought I wanted to be in one. Why would I want to have to read what someone else dictated when there are more books I want to read than time in which to read them?
But as I faced empty nesting about six years ago, exiting the homeschooling community scene of long duration, being self-employed with zero commute out in the world, and with my church community two towns away, I wanted to know some folks more close by. Our new independent bookstore, run by our former “first selectman” (the New England version of a small town mayor) who is now a friend, started a bookclub in her fresh, little store. I wanted to be supportive of her and her courageous venture, so I was in the book group since the beginning. However, in deference to my independent streak, I only read the books that I wanted to.
This group was slow gaining the momentum we are experiencing now, but was totally worth the wait. It takes time to build relationships, but discussing books over time is a great way to do it. In the title above, there is a book group that the author claims is wonderful. But all of us present like our own gregarious, less formal one much better than the stifled approach of the group in that book. We are much more convivial, unpretentious, vociferous, and candid.
None of us have much in common, except we live here and read. I think this is one of the things that makes this group work so well. There is no posturing, and everyone, without exception, is accepted at face value. Showing up for this alone on a monthly basis is worth it.
And as we read a wide range of things, so many different facets of each of us come out. When reading about refuges in Exit West last summer, one book group lady disagreed with some point, prefacing her comment with, “When I was in Iran during the revolution…” and we all stopped her mid sentence with a collective, “What???” When reading about a drug addict, we heard from a book group member whose mother was addicted to crack and another whose father worked with those addicted to heroin. When someone questions the believability of some character’s response, whether it is someone who lost a child, or someone going through a divorce, there is a voice of experience in the room to speak to the question. If we read a book set in Denver, someone has lived there. The plurality of voices and the depth of many dissimilar backgrounds always yields a value added experience to the books we read.
Last Thursday evening we had a lovely discussion around this book, after agreeing on it’s relative lack of merit, with its defects, deficiencies, and well-intentioned choosing. We went around the room each sharing the book that had mattered most to us. Answers ranged from Shakespeare, Lord of the Rings, The Glass Castle, The Great Gatsby, The Lorax, Gone with the Wind, Lonesome Dove, The Thornbirds, To Kill a Mockingbird, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and others. Each month we learn a little more about each other, and our respective tastes in books.
We recommend books to each other, as we learn what books we know they’ll like. There is one in our group that reads everything Paris and World War II. (She is so enthusiastic, we’ve had to limit our group to only one World War II book per year.) They know I’m not a fan of suicide, negativity, or adultery, and that I prefer something transformational, redemptive, constructive, informative, or fun. One can’t handle any violence at all, and reads environmental books like The Invention of Nature, which I also thought was terrific. Some love Dan Brown, others scoff at him. One loves what she calls “dark,” –usually too dark for me– but also I’ve read things she’s recommended that I never would have, which I have loved as much as she did. Some adore huge, thick books, others steer clear. Unlike me, who went to engineering school, many have read every classic in college or before. I read a lot, more than 52 books a year–see my yearly Reading Challenge–but that is nothing compared to some of these women. However, if you read only our one book per month, that would be fine with us, and we’d feel you have just as much to contribute.
Last August, the bookstore moved to a new location down the block, so now it is two blocks from my house, instead of only one. The remarkable thing is the bookstore never had to pay movers. Lovers of the bookstore, including book group people, hand trucked everything down there and helped reassemble it. This is community, and it is precious.
Last Thursday night, there was a newcomer at our book group, which was fitting because in the book we were discussing, the main character was new to the fictitious book group that came to mean so much to her. At our own book group, through our newcomer’s eyes, we caught a glimpse of ourselves. We were welcoming and warm, but blazingly opinionated, free to express ourselves, never hesitant to discuss a taboo subject directly, and completely, refreshingly unsuperficial. I think she was a bit blown away, but also, I’m pretty sure she will be back. What she experienced is rare and wonderful, and a whole lot more of that is needed in the world.
I’ve been there all this time watching this special thing emerge and build. It didn’t happen all at once. You might have to be patient with the book group you find (or start). I’m glad I was. Now, each of us prioritize being there more and more as the months go by, sorely missing it if we are compelled to be away. One wonders what will we be like as a group many years hence?
Meanwhile, they all got invitations to my big show opening in October, and I like their family news on Facebook, as their only child goes off to kindergarten, or another grandchild is born. I share meals and movies occasionally with a couple of these women, and have visited art museums with another. I bump into them at the farmer’s market or the library sale, and our little town feels more like a community. We are becoming increasingly “there” for each other. All I can say is it is beautiful and I’m grateful.
So I encourage you to find the time and bandwidth to have a book group in your life. (And if you can’t find one, start one!) Read the selection, show up, and be part of what emerges. Be patient with what it is, and return. Listen. Expand. Share. Love. You are co-creating community more than anything else. And you too will be blessed.