Book clubs are all the rage. They’re everywhere. Oprah has one. Civic groups and country clubs have them. Chances are your church or synagogue has one. (Come to think of it, they’ve been reading the same book for years). Whether they’re formal and structured, or a free-for-all in someone’s home, book clubs just might be the new social order.
I belong to a book club. Unlike the majority of book clubs, which are populated by bibliophiliac women, ours is a couples book club. And as congenial as it is, its very uniqueness creates a set of rather unique challenges.
But first, let me tell you how it all began. Blame it on geography. We are seven couples, all friends, who happened to live in the same northeastern town. All of us like to read. Well, almost all of us. We do have a member who is a devout non-reader who is married to a dedicated reader. We allow him to join us because of his witty comments having nothing to do with the story at hand, and his uncanny ability to entertain us with bird calls.
Over the years, due to age, retirement, a decrease in tolerance for cold weather, and an increase in tolerance for canasta, each dyad eventually set forth along the east coast, and landed, for better or worse, in the sunny state of Florida.
So like the aforementioned birds, we migrate, twice a year, to where it’s warm, but not too hot. This movement pattern has dictated the frequency of our meetings, which are once a month for 10 months of the year. The other two months, one on either side of summer, are spent preparing for the transition and recovering from the trauma of confronting all the “stuff” that travels with us.
But back to the challenges. I am uniquely qualified to discuss these, because I am the book club leader-for-life. Which places me in the same category as the President of Sudan, the Ruler of Turkmenistan, and Fidel Castro. I did not ask for this dubious honor. I merely volunteered to lead our very first meeting. Which has taught me a valuable lesson. Keep your mouth shut, and your hands tucked safely beneath your butt.
At each meeting, my first duty as Supreme Leader is settling down 13 enthusiastic people who may not have seen each other between meetings. What a lively bunch! Chatter and cross-conversation are the order of the day, as well as some very dedicated snacking. So one has a choice. Either develop vocal strain or hand out Ritalin. Fortunately, I’m very good at shouting.
Have you ever tried to choose a meeting date that would accommodate 14 people? I don’t recommend it. But somehow we manage each time to find a day where no one has a doctor’s appointment, grandchildren visiting, tickets to a one-night only performance, or a Cousins Club meeting.
Because we are a club of mixed gender, selection of the book-of-the-month also requires special consideration. This tends to rule out chick-lit as well as more masculine topics such as an intricate description of the top 10 military strategies employed during World War II. All of which are outdated by now anyway. But somehow, each time, we do manage a selection, mixing it up between fiction and non, with a page count that will not require speed-reading before the next gathering.
As the Reluctant Leader, I do try to come prepared to lead at least a semi-intelligent discussion. This works pretty well, unless the snacks are exceptional, in which case passing the salami rolls can seriously interfere with an interpretation of the author’s true meaning. And I’m thinking another Ritalin pill may soon be in order.
And so it goes until we conclude with the highlight of the evening – dinner!
Despite the trials and tribulations described above, I’m truly blessed to be a part of the clan. Our gang has been together in this endeavor for a remarkable 10 years. Clearly we are all very committed and have made this experience a priority in our lives. We are bound together by books, booze, snacks, and a meal. But best of all, intimacy and love. Long may we read!
This essay is dedicated to my comrade-in-books, my dear, sweet, and funny friend, Lynn, who died on February 26, 2018.