First Person

Beyond Books: Book club brings wisdom, camaraderie

A few years ago, I commented to a friend that I’d recently finished a book and was surprisingly exhilarated with how good I felt having made it through something that was purely mine. Over the course of a slow week in the winter, I found myself turning pages, unraveling a story, getting into the heads of the characters and feeling momentarily transported to a different world. When it was over, I immediately looked for another one to start. As a mother of two young children and with a demanding job working at an advertising agency, carving out time for myself in the form of reading was not an easy task. It always feels indulgent to spend time alone, with peace and quiet, when surely there must be something “productive” I could be doing with the family or around the house. My friend felt the same and was looking for the encouragement she needed to make reading a habit again. She suggested that I come with her to her first meeting. I didn’t have anything to lose and I’d heard book clubs were fun (because, you know, all the wine).

What took place over the next few years was one of the most impactful changes in my life. The club not only exposed me to dozens of books I never would have known about, let alone had the motivation to try and read, it exposed me to a wonderful group of thoughtful and empowering women to boot.

There was wine, but there was also so much wisdom. At 40 years old, I’m one of the youngest ladies in our small group (we hover around ten people on a regular basis). I regularly yuk it up with women in their 60s and it feels like we’re all ageless when we’re together. The women in this group are teachers, endurance athletes, counselors, hall of fame runners, cancer survivors, corporate executives, moms and all-around strong people who live their lives with purpose and drive. Our unique backgrounds and generational differences often spin our conversations about the books we read into multi-faceted, deep discussions touching on all the “things you shouldn’t talk about with company” (sex, religion and politics), but somehow with this group it is always an uplifting narrative and we all leave with new perspective on things. One woman commented, “The dynamic of the group makes me pause and sometimes just sit and take it all in. Having these special people in my life that are passionate about a book often leads to a great conversation about the relative nature of our lives.” Another shared, “The fun and honesty of our book club is what brings us together and I am so glad I am a part of it.”

Not only is there wine, there is food (and I’m not talking about a pizza delivery from around the corner, these ladies roll out the good china and prepare a feast to fuel our conversations). I’ve learned from them that you should always make an occasion feel special. Book club is a special occasion. Let there be salad forks and multiple plates. Break out the recipe you’ve been dying to try. Savor dinner, dessert and an extra glass of wine. I believe part of the reason we’re able to have candid and honest discussions about hard topics is because we break bread together. We’ve kept our group small so we are able to fit around each other’s tables, protecting the chemistry we’ve created over the years.

For anyone out there that is feeling inspired to start a book club, or is on the fence about joining one, I offer this advice: go in with an open mind. You will read books you might not like, but you will have conversations about them that you’ll never forget. Look for people to be involved in your club that aren’t like you — different life situations, professional experiences and world views will only enrich your time together, whether you’re talking about the book, or as we so often find ourselves doing, using the book as the backdrop to talk about our lives.

If you find yourself stumped on choosing a book for the group (it can be daunting), consider going with a theme. We’ve had times when everyone had to choose a biography and keep it secret, so we could start the discussion with a round of questions to try and guess who everyone read about. We scour sites like to see what books were trending ten years ago, then pick something from the top 20. There’s a better chance the book will be available in libraries or discounted in stores when you pick an older title. Sometimes we think about books that we know will become movies, because everyone knows, “the book is always better than the movie.”

Lastly, don’t take it too seriously. Yes, try to finish the book so you can be part of the discussion, but remember, you’re an adult with a life full of tasks and uncertainty. There will be times when you can’t get to the book or you can’t get through it on time. Let it go and pick up the next read! Many of the ladies in our club enjoy audiobooks so they can listen while commuting or out on a walk. Even if you only catch a few chapters before it’s time to meet, show up and be part of the group.

Book clubs aren’t all about the books; they’re about a camaraderie fueled by literature. A reason to get together, a reason to share, a reason to do it all again with another book a month or two down the road. Book club is about discovery — new stories that are printed on pages, but also the ones that are spoken by the company around you.

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