Ten well-read women around a table, dusk obscuring color and line, two open bottles of wine, platters of salad passed, candles elongating shadows in the summer evening, welcome breeze from the canyon, conversation sizzling. My book club.
I’ve belonged to the same book club for almost twenty years. Initially, it was the one evening a month I could leave the demands of early motherhood and be the person I was before I had children. I could eat a meal I didn’t prepare (and didn’t have to spoon in to a reluctant mouth) and talk to friends without using a sing-song voice. Suddenly my intellect returned. It gave me a group of friends with a common passion. It gave me a lifeline.
Over the years, my book club and I have mourned together as one of our beloved members died from ovarian cancer, wrung our hands with worry as members were divorced, and waved goodbye as several moved away. In those same years, we’ve consumed cases of wine, discussed dreams, children, partners, and politics – each conversation embedded in the universal themes of literature.
More than a few acquaintances and friends have asked to join and it’s tempting to invite new members to get a taste of the deliciousness, but we’re a little possessive of our intimate club, and the exclusivity is part of the magic. Book club is a safe place to discuss viewpoints about controversial subjects and share secrets. It’s a fine balance of opposing values and kindness in responding to them. I know that some book clubs meet to have a nice meal, gossip, and drink a bunch of wine. Not ours. We are serious readers (who also drink a bunch of wine).
How to create your own? Number one rule: don’t invite all your best friends. You want a non-homogenous group committed to one common thing – love of the written word. Different religious/political/geographical backgrounds add depth to the conversation. We keep the members to about ten, which is large enough to have a vigorous discussion if one or two don’t show up, but not so many that the hostess won’t have enough chairs. Most importantly, we’ve also found that ten is the maximum number for cohesive conversation. More people and the group will separate into several side discussions.
Boring (but important) details: We choose our books for the whole year in November or December. Each member chooses one book in which they will facilitate the discussion. Facilitation (at the very least) will include keeping the discussion on topic, asking questions, and researching the author. Sometimes the facilitator will host a guest speaker or arrange a skype session with the author. We’ve even visited museums and historical sites to enhance the discussion.
In one separate month per year, each member will host book club and provide all the food and drink for the evening. The rest of the year, members only have to read, attend, and enjoy. We have one overnight retreat and around the holidays we gather for brunch at a restaurant (no book discussion).
Best (most notable) moments in our club: dressing in character for a discussion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, debating the publishing controversy and the differences between Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and Go Set a Watchman, listening to the Serial podcast then holding our discussion in a federal courtroom (one of our members is married to a federal court judge).
Two favorites for me, personally: In 2004, we read Paulo Coehlo’s The Alchemist and revealed our personal legends. It was the first time I declared out loud that I wanted to be a writer. Ten years later, I was brave enough to let my book club read the completed (and yet to be represented) manuscript for ROOT, PETAL, THORN. I wouldn’t be a published author without the love, support, and critical feedback from my beloved book club. And without my beloved book club, the years of my life, and the pages I turn, would not be as rich.