When I moved to BC in October 2000, I knew one person here. She was a busy doctoral candidate with a swarm of great urban friends. I was way out in Surrey and feeling unhinged (insert Surrey joke here).
But a month into my new life, another old pal came out of the woodwork. She lived just across the bridge. She invited me to her suburban book club.
I owe her my life. That band of bookish ladies grounded me instantly. It’s been 12 years and I rarely miss a meeting and tend to read most of the books. Considering I have two children and a relentless career, this is big.
There has been much said about building the better book club. Some have many rules and are loaded with expectations about food and literature. I think it might be fun ONCE to plan food around the theme of the book, but after that it would just become another assignment.
Some only read non-fiction. I do that for work.
Some actually assign book reports and have people read them out. I can’t imagine that fresh hell.
I think many miss the most important part of a book club. The club. That’s right, a group of real people who are bound by conversation on a common subject and in our case find common ground with each other by exploring the written word.
And over time, the small conversations add up to a great deal of bonding. These woman have my back.
Do we have rules? We have two:
- Book must be easily accessible, preferably available in the library.
- No matter what, just come to book club.
This second rule is so important, when I bulked because my dude was out of town, the offer of a teenaged babysitter came instantly from another member. And she picked me up. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t bought the book.
That’s right, we don’t have to read the book. And this still works. Why? Because we offer the stories of our lives. We relate the material to our own experience. And you can understand the theme without having to read about it.
Most of us read each time. We love to read after all. Sometimes a member will be having a bad month, or year (that happens) and just can’t get it together. We understand, and still want their company. Sometimes we only talk book for ten minutes because life stories are more urgent.
We allow breast-feeding babies to tag along, a move that still brings tears to my eyes considering how isolated and brain dead I felt those first few months. My noise sensitive daughter howled when we women cackled. There was no shortage of arms willing to jiggle and walk her. My second child thankfully just ate and pooped.
This club was founded by my old old pal who tacked a note up at a public library or two. Her cousin came and brought a friend. Some woman know each other through kid’s activities or school. Some of us only see each other once a month.
We all work outside the home. (That’s not a requirement, it just happened.) We have teachers, special needs assistants, a lawyer, a psychologist, an ICBC adjustor, an accountant, a home care business owner, a corrections officer, a recreation therapist for seniors, a cook and me, the public broadcaster.
We all are generous with advice and not afraid to ask for it.
Some of us will be so tired from the rest of our lives we will nod off at meetings. No one teases.
We once swelled to 13 members (a coven!) but not everyone can come each month. We’ve had small gatherings and one epic weekend in Whistler including zip-lining. I’m the youngest. The oldest is well into her eighties.
We all have kids, some grand-kids, and one has great-grand-kids.
We all love to laugh and live for family. We have a real-world mix of children who are academically gifted and those who’s foibles and challenges keep up us up at night. We have interesting men in our life. But when someone suggested another club was having a couples book night most of us laughed hysterically.
There have been recounts of tragedies: lost loves, deaths, and game-changing discoveries. There has also been much joy shared over a warm drink and a plate of brownies. Or a glass of wine.
I’d say most of our books fall under the “women fighting adversity to find themselves” category, but people have particular tastes for mystery, historical fiction, or comedy.
So far the book we’ve talked most about is Lionel Shiver’s “We Need to Talk about Kevin“. I gloat, because I suggested it. But I’ve also brought the most hated titles including “Perfume” by Suskind and a Chuck Palahniuk novel. Curiously all three end in murder, two in a murderous orgy. Oops.
I’ve read so many books I wouldn’t have considered. That’s a gift. I can’t imagine NOT having read “The Book Thief“.
And I can’t imagine these last dozen years without the ladies of the club. I raise a glass or a cup in their general direction and can’t wait to hear the next chapter in the rest of their lives.