Friday, March 20, 2009

On Book Clubs

JAN: I joined a book club about ten years ago in hopes of getting greater insight into the way different readers respond to different books.

But the funny thing about book clubs is they get to be about a lot more than just books.

Our group is all women. About twelve of us now, and at least half of us have been together for ten years. We’ve given each other advice on hair dressers, yoga teachers, ski lodges, and the best New York hotels. We’ve supported each other over miscarriages, divorces, parents' deaths, and trouble with our children. We’ve celebrated birthdays and book launches and major promotions.

Last summer, one of our members, Beth was promoted from commander to captain in the Navy Reserves. We all attended a military ceremony on the USS Constitution in Boston. It was an emotional and beautiful event, illuminating service and dedication. We were all blown away with pride. Afterwards, we got a private tour of the historical battleship, and toasted Beth's promotion with champagne cocktails at brunch aboard the cruise ship Odyssey.

Last week, our book club got together for a different kind of party. This one was to say goodbye. Beth was assigned to a command post in Iraq. She’ll be gone for at least a year.

Because of Beth's attitude about the assignment – that it was an exciting opportunity – we treated it as a celebration. Rose hosted, we all brought food and wine, and even spouses were invited. Beth arrived in a terrific black cocktail dress accessorized with Navy issue desert boots.

We did not cry. At least not at the party. We gave Beth a gift certificate for her new Kindle so she could keep up with the books we were reading. We were quite bossy about expecting her opinion of each month’s choice by email.

We will be thinking about what we can send her, and what we can do for her family left behind. But mostly, we’ll be reading all news out of Iraq with a new intensity. We'll start seeing the war a lot closer up, holding our breath after each new terrorist attack, and praying hard until the day she comes home.
What are we reading for next month? I can't remember.


  1. What a beautiful story, Jan. Thank you for sharing it. We'll hold Beth in the light for safe passage and safe arrival home.

    The only book group I was part of turned out to be a mistake. It was at lunch at work (at a software company) with my technical-writing colleagues. Three of the men had (still have) PhDs in English. Book club ended up being literary analysis and made me feel like I was back in high school English class. The other women and I wanted to talk about if we liked the book or not. Finally I stopped going, even though it had made me read (and enjoy) King Lear for the first time.


  2. Wonderful post Jan: I love what Edith said about holding Beth in the light.

    I've belonged to a book club for about four years and they were meeting before that. I think they were a little nervous about adding a writer. The woman hosting the club cooks dinner, which we all enjoy, whether or not we loved the book. The most controversy is generated in the choosing...but that's another day's blog...

  3. Thanks, Roberta. It's a Quaker thing...

  4. Edith,
    Well that figures. I read a historical saga about Quakers when I was a kid and have wanted to be one ever since. I even went to a few meetings.

    Also, I think the key to our book group is this. We've decided its supposed to be fun. Not another major demand in your life. So members can skip meetings without feeling guilty, show up at a meeting without having read the book. Whatever. There is never any scolding. We read everything from classics to non-fiction to Janet Evanovich.

    We also make it easy. The hostess provides a couple of appetizers or dips, dessert, wine and coffee. No one has to cook if they don't want to and unless its a special event (combined book club/baby shower) NO ONE is allowed to bring anything.

    One of our members is a librarian and she always has terrific suggestions.(She also orders the books for us) What I love most about the book club is that I read books I'd never chose on my own.

    And yes, we DO talk about the book. But not the whole two hours!

  5. What a moving blog post--wow. Puts day to day worries in perspective.

    Jan said: What I love most about the book club is that I read books I'd never chose on my own.

    That was the best part for me, too, with a book group I was in for a few years (no time for it now because I'm up to my gills keeping up with books to be reviewed). Left to my own devices I tend to read lighter literary fiction, so it was good to get stretched into trying more challenging reads.

    Still, what I love is when you get 'lift off' and reading feels effortless. Doesn't happen as often as I'd like.

    Jan, I'd love to know what are the top books your group has loved over the past few years?