When I lived in a little town, we went through great lengths to have a strong, solid book club that would appeal to the general public.
We met once a month in the town library, and we always chose a book from Oprah’s Book Club, which was popular at the time. Riding Oprah’s coattails seemed an easy way to get people involved.
About 15 or 20 of us would sit around in a circle, and our discussion about points and themes and messages of the book would be prompted by a list of thought-provoking questions someone would put together and all of us followed with dedication.
Martinsville, in comparison to my quaint hometown, is quite the booming metropolis, so when I moved here, I was thrilled with the prospect of what a big-city book club would have to offer.
Soon after my arrival, I was invited to a book club. I was thrilled; I was in the big league of books now.
I read the book carefully, from cover to cover, and gave great thought to the author’s point, and the characters, and the clever foreshadowing, and all that.
At the first book club meeting, we all sat around our hostess’s living room. The wine poured, and the ladies chatted.
I kept waiting for them to bring up the book.
Finally, I asked, “Are we going to talk about the book?”
A couple of ladies chuckled. We talked about the book for about 10minutes, then returned to matters such as shopping and manicures and the new menu at the club.
The next meeting was similar, but with even less time spent on the book; yet I remained optimistic.
By the third meeting, I had realized the woman who was that week’s hostess wasn’t much of a reader. I put Post-it notes with key points at a few key sections of the book that I felt would come up in discussion and pulled her aside before the meeting started to explain. She laughed and said with a wave of her hand that she had not read that book (even though she was the one who had picked it out), but she liked the author.
By the fourth meeting I was becoming an old pro at this. There was a new member, and this lady was an English teacher. As the conversation and wine flowed, she leaned over to me with a worried look on her face. “When are they going to talk about the book?” she asked.
“They don’t, really,” I said. She looked alarmed.
The fifth meeting was the last one we had. At that one, the hostess was overwhelmed and took a Valium after already having drunk wine. She retired to her room and stayed there, even though dinner had only barely begun cooking.
Some of the members looked at each other, perplexed. The English teacher looked particularly worried. By then I was an old hat at this. I just went into the kitchen, finished some of the cooking while another lady set the table, and we got started. The hostess came back out after the dishes had been washed. The book never came up in conversation.
That false call I had about book clubs when I was new here has come back to mind recently as I’ve been the guest at a couple of meetings of other book clubs.
How refreshing to see book clubs that actually are about books. These book clubs have been operating for many decades; one celebrated its 100th anniversary.
Some of these longstanding book clubs have the following format: At the start of each year, the members choose their books for the full year. Each buys a book and shares it with the others, taking turns to read them. Their meetings are a combination of food, fellowship, Robert’s Rules of Order and book talk. They are excited about their books.
These long established book clubs predate libraries in our area. They were formed when books were not widely available, so it makes sense that women got together back in those days to trade books with each other in a dependable, orderly fashion.
Now a new book club is in the making. A young lady – daughter of a friend my age – posted on Facebook that she’d like to start a book club and she was assessing interest. A lot of other young ladies chimed in enthusiastically that they’d love to have one.
These book clubs are signs of their times: The early ones, book exchanges when it was otherwise hard to get book; that wine book club, when everyone was supposed to read the same book but usually didn’t, apparently just a way for bored housewives to get away from their husbands and children; and this fledgling book club, being formed by women who are looking for something beyond social media, something classic and enduring – the book.