Clubs are an interesting cultural phenomenon, changing with the times.   One of my grandmothers was a member of The Friendly Club, which got together mostly to eat.  Another was a member of the Homemakers Club, which convened to discuss housekeeping and crafting tips. 

I would gladly join the first, but not the second.  Luckily for me, times have changed, and book clubs, at which you eat, have been all the rage during my adult years.  Here’s a book report on my book club experience.

SETTING:  I loved the first book club I was in.   I hung in there for nearly 20 years, but it became untenable because after we all married and left the city, I was the only one who lived in this particular  neck of the woods.  Driving for an hour alone by myself in snowstorms and summer heat – and then back again – finally got too old.  Besides, I was also in a book club in my own neighbhorhood.  This club dates back to when I was pregnant with Malcolm, so that’s 13+ years now.

CHARACTERS:  In terms of make-up of the group, any new members must be unanimously voted in.  If anyone has a true hesitation, the nominee is out.  Our book club is not a place for petty politics (we get enough of that at work, church and school) or for competition.  It’s a sacred trust.  We all have to like, respect, and enjoy each other.  

We have had some drama in our own cast of characters.  In my old group, there was a screaming match between a very high-strung woman (Catholic) who thought another woman (Jewish) was dissing her religion, and had been doing so for years.  Things finally came to a head, as the rest of us watched in horror, in a very lovely living room that I’m sure had never seen such contention.  The Catholic woman was deeply ashamed and summarily quit, via postcard.  We never saw her again.

In that same group, there was the unhappily married mother of two who got a job volunteering at a theatre – and ran off to Ireland with one of the actors.  She’s still there, to this day.  Everyone endlessly asked, how could she leave her little children?  Her story has become legend.

My current group has known tragedy, when the irreverent and spirited Wendy lost her battle with breast cancer.  Wendy is legendary too.

PLOT:  Here’s how our club operates.  We only choose books a few months ahead.  I know some clubs draw up their reading lists for the entire year in January.  But by the time you discuss December’s book, and somebody read it back in April, doesn’t the discussion suffer due to memory loss? 

We meet at different houses, on rotation, usually decided by email as the date approaches.  We can only meet at my house in the summer, because our house is old and uninsulated, sound travels too well, and our talking and laughing keeps the boys awake too late on a school night.  We love to meet at Kathleen’s house in the summer too, because she has a pool and her husband makes pitchers of exotic drinks for us.

Some people have perfect meeting houses – enough parking, good insulation, lots of comfy chairs – others have drawbacks like mine.

We try to discuss the book for a respectable period of time before inevitably branching out into family, in-laws, crazy neighbors, college applications, what the teenagers are really up to, etc.

We don’t do dinner meetings.  With an 8 PM start time, it’s strictly wine, seltzer, snacks, fruit, cookies.  Sometimes we have themes, like the time Anne served marshmallow peeps because we were discussing The Diary of Samuel Pepys, and she served Pimms Cups, because they are so English.

That was our most contentious book.  Lots of women in the group hated Samuel.  We also went thumbs down on Eat Pray Love (another of my choices, thanks a lot, gals), and a book that was co-written by two women called Ugly Cookies (never, ever read a piece of co-authored fiction).

We have learned that the best discussions arise from unloved books.  That’s where the debate is.  Controversy is lively.  Agreement is boring.

CONCLUSION:  Life without book club would be immeasurably bleaker.  And, to plagiarize from every elementary school book report ever written,  if you want to find out what happens at the end, you have to read the book.

Tell us about your book club experience, past or present  Do you have an agenda and a leader, or is it free-flowing?  Do you nix the Oprah books on principle?  Is chick-lit allowed, or banned?  What do you love/hate most about your club?
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