The beautiful brunette sidled up, commented on the book that I was considering in the small independent bookstore, and then murmured a life-changing question. Minutes later, I was part of a new book group formed from pieces of a stodgy, dour book club, friends, and congenial others.
This past Wednesday night, the book group surprised me with cake and celebration of a significant birthday. While I still wobble with the aftermath of that new number, I am steadied and grounded by their warmth, humor, intelligence, generosity, and our years of sharing lives and books.
No one has kept an exhaustive record of our years reading, hosting, membership, and what was served. No one needs to — unless of course, they really want to do so and then they are welcome to go for it. We have wildly diverging tastes and expectations from books and have thus read everything from literary classics (Pride and Prejudice) to contemporary fiction(The Husband’s Secret), stories from childhood (A Wrinkle in Time) to nonfiction (The Magic Room; Hillbilly Elegy). I’ve read books that I never would have discovered on my own and found favorite authors. There have been tugs in direction and arguments about the merit of individual books, but a continued commitment to reading, to story, to book group.
Books have been the lightning rod, a galvanizing force to spark fantastic debate about books, social issues, what’s really going on in town, sports, politics, aging parents, dogs, dysfunctional families, real estate, and children. (Much as they might like to think it, our significant others are rarely discussed — and are tolerated for brief visits when we are host.) Our diverse backgrounds and life experiences assure someone can always provide useful perspective and actionable information.
When we say we are going to book group, we mean that we are spending the evening with the others who know our stories and love us and with whom we write our own story, month by month, year by year. When it’s book group night, the local coffee shop knows to keep the coffee coming, hot and strong while I finish the book. Dinner is slapdash and I fly out the door before it’s cleared.
Some nights run late, when we need to be with ones who know us, honor our triumphs and woes, who share the triumphs and staggering losses of living life fully and who we can count on to listen, question, and bring chocolate, wine, and a shovel. I am teased that the book group is an excuse for me to go out and have a glass of wine with friends, that no one really reads the book and discusses it. I grin at the useful cover for the most subversive of activities, going out and being my most genuine, opinionated, laughing self with others doing the same thing.
Our book group is more important, rich, fascinating than anything we read. If the books we read each month offer solitary escapes and soars, book group is where we return to earth to mull hard questions, peer down harrowing corridors, laugh at mishaps, and share our life stories — and talk about the book that we did (or did not) read that month.
P.S. My stunned face was not an act — I really was surprised. You guys did great.