Why? Because my book group met tonight.
And I love this group of women. We’re all different in a lot of way, except that we love books. Our membership has waxed and waned over the last 17 years, and when we started, we ranged from young single gals to grandmas. (We still have one single gal who is an honorary member; she’s active duty military and no longer posted near us. But she’s still one of us!)
This group has expanded my reading horizons like no other influence in my life. Yes, I DO hang around writers an awful lot, and I do get a lot of recommendations from them about what to read. But these women? They challenge me. They make me read nonfiction, of all things. Memoirs, even. Novels I would never have picked up on my own.
I’d be lying if I said I enjoyed every single book. But I have enjoyed every single conversation about the books. There’s a book called Spending by Mary Gordon that offended half the group, but what I love was that Noelle was able to tell me, without rancor, exactly what it was about the book that offended her.
The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, by Fay Weldon, was another controversy. For one woman, it struck far too close to home, and she said so. I, on the other hand, discovered a new love for the darkest and bleakest of black comedies.
We often drift off topic, talking about our lives, our jobs, our concerns, our families, our triumphs and our heart breaks. We might discuss what it’s like to lose a parent, and how that differs depending on what age you are when the loss occurs. We talk a lot about the women in our lives, the mothers, sisters and daughters that shape us and are shaped by us.
Tonight we mentioned Connie, who was one of the founding members of the group and has moved onward and upward, falling off our collective radar. We talked about how one of our Carol’s transitioned from being a young, adventurous single teacher to a married mom of two. We talked about Kate, who most recently moved away, and I was able to update everyone about her new life in Washington. (If you’re reading this, Kate, we’re all terribly jealous of the vast green-ness of where you live.)
It’s not all tea and crumpets. Sometimes we disagree. Occasionally I’ve felt like the group was fading away, only to have it weather the storm of disinterest and come back. We’ve had arguments. We’ve had people leave, come back, and leave again. Others decide we aren’t their cup of tea and drift away. When people go on hiatus, sometimes they come back and sometimes they don’t.
I know these women feel free to disagree with me. I know they’ll respect my opinion, and tell me that I’m full of crap when the situation warrants it. They know I’ll respect them and listen to them in return, even if we never come to a point of agreement. In fact, the conversation is much more enjoyable if we don’t all agree.
And I have to mention the potlucks. What are great books without great food? Every year in September we hold The Choosing, which I insist on capitalizing and everyone humors me. This is a free-for-all potluck and we vote on the books for the coming year. Then, in December, we hold a used book exchange and an appetizer and dessert potluck. Gretchen 1 almost set herself on fire one year, when she was quite pregnant and trying to reach across the lit candles for just a bit more of the baked brie. Another year, Noelle gifted us all with slippers made out of maxi pads. One member whose name I forget brought the most incredible chopped chicken liver to one potluck, and I’m afraid I thoroughly disgraced myself by the amount I ate. But who makes chopped chicken liver any more? And who could forget Sona’s coconut cake, which takes three days to make and tastes so good I think we devoured every crumb. We had a summer potluck on Mary’s Deck for Nancy’s 60th birthday, and whenever we’re going to be at Chris’ we all secretly hope she’ll make her killer gingersnaps.
Good books. They wouldn’t be the same without the good people.