Join a Book Club? Me?

Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

Why would I want to be in a book club? Reading is a solitary pursuit. It’s near the top of my list of pleasures — even above chocolate and bourbon. Would I want someone to decide what I had to read? What if I didn’t like it? What if I chose the book and nobody liked it?

I once worked with a woman who was in a book club. The way she described it, some of the women always talked about the book before the club gathered, so when the meeting took place it was one big gab fest. The chosen book seemed to be beside the point. This did not sound appealing to me. Unfortunately, this formed my opinion of book clubs.

I admit I enjoy books about book clubs. One of my favorite authors, Karen Joy Fowler wrote “The Jane Austen Book Club”. This novel portrayed a book club that sounded like fun to me, although I wouldn’t want to read only Jane Austen. But even in novels, there are whiny, gossipy book clubs. What’s the point?

To be fair, I didn’t know of any book clubs, so I wasn’t exactly turning down multitudes of invitations.

Then one day that invitation came. At the time I didn’t have many women friends. I found it easier to talk to men. Women in general either annoyed me or intimidated me. It was the latter type who asked if I wanted to come to her book club. This was a woman I admired and wanted to get to know. But… a book club?

With a bit of trepidation I accepted and started the first book. Oh crap! My fears were coming true! The book was “Olive Kitteredge” and I didn’t finish it. I found all the characters miserable and I couldn’t bear to spend any more time with them. I rarely leave a book unfinished but, wouldn’t you know, it had to be this one.

The night of my first book club meeting, I arrived with a bottle of wine and a stomach full of anxiety. Some of the women I already knew. I was introduced to the rest and was warmly greeted by all.

The first thing I learned is this group eats very well.

Whoever hosts, makes a main dish; the rest bring salads, appetizers, breads and desserts. And wine, of course. I was impressed. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad. Conversation flowed around the table and I thought, “I like these women.” Then we got to the book.

“Who read the book?” someone asked, as if it was a routine question. About a third of the women did NOT raise their hands. What? They came to book club and didn’t even read the book? I was floored. I had at least tried to read it. Some of those who did read the book didn’t like it. Whew! This wasn’t what I expected. I decided to share my thoughts about Ms. Kitteredge.

I was pleased to hear a lively discussion. A variety of viewpoints were brought out. I can’t say I liked the book any better but I gained insight into the other women. This book club thing might be alright.

It’s now several years later and I’m still in the book club. I love this bunch of strong, feisty, intelligent women. I love how we can look at books in so many different ways. I’m reading books I might never have chosen in the past. I’m learning not to be disappointed when someone doesn’t like my book choice. I’m discovering how uniquely individual our tastes are.

Once in a while we pair the food with the book.

We’re all pretty good cooks. A few are excellent bakers. The desserts are nothing short of spectacular. Not all books lend themselves to a food theme, but some do. For “The Hours Count” by Jillian Cantor (historical fiction about Ethel and Julius Rosenberg), I attempted a Jewish brisket. I think it was a hit. When we read “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, I cooked stewed African chicken. Hmm… I need to make that again.

There was a book set in England I can’t remember, but our hostess made Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding. Another book now forgotten, I wish I could remember because it prompted one member to make an unusual green Jello dish that may have had “frog” in the name. But not in the Jello.

I’ve learned to loosen up about “rules.” If someone hasn’t read the book, we still want to see them. And they still enjoy the conversation. I even, on occasion, have been persuaded not to give up on a book. “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders is one I struggled with and quit several times. The woman who picked it posted a podcast with the author. Bingo! My interest was restored, I finished the book and was glad I read it.

I wasn’t much of a joiner as a child.

I tended to hover on the fringes… a bit of a loner. It took me many years to appreciate and celebrate being a part of a group. I think it’s because these women are awesome and I was lucky to find a fantastic group. I’m proud to be one of them.

This month is my turn to host.

The book is “Serena” by Ron Rash. Here’s another book I started awhile ago and put down. It may be that the movie reviews were so bad they soured my opinion of the book. Once again, I was wrong. I finished it this time with pleasure. The writing is lush and rich. The book club discussion should be lively. Now… what should I cook?