I was lucky enough to be invited into a book club last year. I'd been casting about, hoping ot find one that worked for me in my pregnant, temporarily in NYC state, and our friend started one with her soon-to-be-cousin-in-law.
It's a huge group, with anywhere between eight and 15 people showing up to talk about books like Cleopatra (universally hated, only one person got past page 45, and she finished it out of sheer will; the NY Times is full of gas) and Super Sad True Love Story, which I missed but am reading for a different book club.
What I like about book clubs is that they force the members to read. I haven't finished every book. In fact, there's a rule with our club now that if you don't finish at least 75 percent of the book, you probably shouldn't show (I might have inspired this rule, but I had a newborn!). It's a big group, as I said, and the chances of us getting off-topic are high, especially with that many members.
But the downside of book clubs is that you don't always read books you're interested in, even if you suggested them (Cleopatra, you charlatan). Our group had selected Isabel Wilkerson's Warmth of Other Suns, but kicked it after another failed non-fiction selection (Precious Objects, best described and read as a collection of vignettes that are individually (more or less) interesting but as a whole not as cohesive as could have or should have been).
Several of us were disappointed by its dismissal. A couple of people had started Warmth of Other Suns, a couple had purchased it. I suggested a splinter group. Gasp! A splinter group. We met last night, four of us, in a tea shop near my house. Over creamy mushroom soup and shared pots of rooibos and a lovely white tea, we talked about structure, language, narrative, and the importance of voice. What Wilkerson did with this book is give an event, the Great Migration, and 6 million people who left the south and all they knew behind, faces and a voice.
Voice. Stories. Narratives. These personalize and legitimize the incomprehensible. For example, we can be horrified to learn that a lynching, which I knew was commonplace, occurred every four days. Every four days. Then apply personal stories to the lynchings. Young teens like Emmet Till, men old and young, all seen as guilty of an infraction, therefore tortured and killed. (Wilkerson uses stories from people she interviewed; I mention Till because his story became widespread after the documentary cited was released and his name may be familiar.)
What I appreciated about the book and about meeting with friends is that I am reminded to stretch and that I can stretch my knowledge, my empathy, my vocabulary. Reading, and why it was important to teach it as well as I could when I was teaching, and to read as well as I can on my own, allows us to become better people on many fronts.
And, selfishly, for two hours, I'm not a mama. I'm a reader.