Doing so wasn’t spontaneous on my part, or an impromptu idea by my friend Deb, who came up with the concept.
In fact, Deb was ready to go with a solid timeline in place the spring before last. She’d also compiled a list of friends
and acquaintances who loved to read. And even though most of us didn’t know one another, she figured that we
could have enough in common—mainly, age and political leanings—that once we had all met, we’d be good to go.
Of course, you know what happened next.
The tsunami called COVID-19 arrived.
And just like that, the idea of any sort of grown-up playdate migrated to everyone’s back burner.
Eventually and as the months dragged on, there was talk of putting the club on Zoom. But since I loathe the platform,
I knew I couldn’t take part. Also, our library was closed, and since I’d decided to procure all of my books this way,
it made no sense to join.
But now that the library has reopened, and everyone in the group is double vaccinated and boosted, I’m thrilled to say that seven of us are reading our hearts out.
In fact, we’re already on our third book in the same number of months.
Each selection has been fiction, with one written by a woman and the other two penned by men. But there’s no set genre (such as mysteries) or topic (such as the history of the United States), so at this point, we’re all over the map. We’ve also been instructed to suggest two books, although none of mine has been chosen.
At least, not yet.
But I don’t mind.
That’s because when left to my own devices, I get stuck in the same kind of books—short stories, memoirs and biographies of classic Hollywood movie stars. Thanks to this club, I’ve been pushed into topics I’d never go for alone.
So far and in order, here’s what we’ve read.
Released only months ago, The Sweetness of Water was an instant New York Times best seller, likely due to the fact that it was an Oprah Book Club pick.
The author also appealed to Deb because of where he’s from. Just 29 years old, Nathan Harris grew up in Ashland, about an hour’s drive from the town where most of us live.
But this novel, set days after the end of the Civil War in a tiny Georgia town, never appealed to me, no matter how hard I tried. I couldn’t connect with any of the characters—white landowner George Walker, who has a bad hip and a gay son, and two recently emancipated brothers heading to a new life up north. Plus, my favorite books are beautifully written, and Sweetness lacks this. Still, I slogged through to the end because I’d made a commitment that if I was going to be in the group, I’d do the talk and the walk.
Thankfully, our second choice had me hooked on the first page. Published last year, The Vanishing Half is the second novel from Britt Bennett, whose debut book The Mothers was a smashing success.
Half takes place over a longer period of time—spanning nearly half a century, from the 1940s to the 1990s. Focusing on “creamy skinned” twin sisters Desiree and Stella, the siblings were raised in a Southern town started and meant for only light-skinned blacks. As teenagers, the two snuck away from home together, but eventually went on wildly divergent paths. One wed and divorced a dark-skinned man and the other passed as Caucasian, married to a white man and giving birth to a blonde, blue-eyed daughter. So satisfying was this book that I read The Mothers immediately afterwards.
The book we’re just finishing is The Overstory, written by Richard Powers and winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize
At over 500 pages of very small print—and no pictures--it’s a super dense read and challenging to get into. The plot is also hard to summarize, except to say that Overstory focuses on nine people in the United States; their relationship to trees, and how that brings about a shared experience. Powers can be morose, too, but his prose is lyrical and full-bodied, with the first chapter about the beginning, middle and end of a stupendous chestnut tree in Iowa. I can’t wait to see how all of the many sub-plots will come together.
One last thing.
I’m not a book club newbie.
I’ve been in two others, one when my 23-year-old daughter was a preschooler and we lived in a California beach town, and another shortly after moving to Oregon two years ago.
The first club met in comfy homes but had too many members—at least a dozen women. So, staying on topic was challenging. But what was more maddening was that most participants didn’t bother to read the book. This made the gatherings purely a social club, which wasn’t what I was looking for.
I lasted just one meeting with the second group.
The head of this club was not only its founder, but a micro-manager who chose every selection, as well as the date and time for every meeting. Also, most of the women were at least a decade older than me, and we met at a retirement home in its brightly-lit conference room. It was the wrong leader; the wrong demographic, and the wrong venue.
Now, though, the third time seems to be the charm.
And who knows?
Maybe one of my book suggestions will be picked soon.