Belonging to two book groups has changed the way I read. I am no longer alone. As I read, if I am confused, frustrated, angry, appalled, bored, shocked, annoyed, joyful, amazed…no matter what I am feeling, I know I am going to be able to air/share it with friends (Currently reading Swamplandia! and thinking “what the heck?” but know I will have an opportunity for clarifying questions) .
My love for reading has been a central part of my life and played a major role in my decision to become a high school English teacher. Passing on this love of reading and the strategies to access rich literature became my life’s work. Deciding to join with others who also loved reading was a natural transition. The first book group was formed by teachers (and a librarian) from Santa Clara and Monta Vista High Schools; the second was formed years later when a group of us moved to different work sites and wanted to keep in touch.
We have varied backgrounds, life experiences, approaches to life and bring different perspectives; each group spans two generations. Some have special appreciation for setting, plot, or character development. We all have an appreciation for the power and richness of language. We love it when a book has something for all of us (recently, The Night Journal by Elizabeth Crook and Ivan Doig’s The Whistling Season)
Some of the “worst” books generate the most intense conversations, like the critically acclaimed Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart; sometimes books we love (Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton) barely get discussed. Those with social issues (Jonathon Franzen’s Freedom) really get us going…but it is the “human” issues within that are at the heart of our discussions. Some are incredibly powerful and just stay with you (except you pass them on to others as must reads), like The Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers.
Now I no longer force myself to finish books…this transition was slow. At first I just left the bookmark wherever I had stopped and set it aside for “later.” Now I let myself say “no way…not going through this whole thing.” Sometimes after the discussion at book group I have a new perspective and I finish the book…sometimes I toss it…yes, remove the book mark and get rid of the book!
The discussions are free flowing. Quotes fly through the air sometimes to corroborate points being made but more often to share amazing language or describe life’s truisms or a special insight into a character. But really, the discussions are the starting point for exploring our beliefs and attitudes toward life and things that happen and choices we have/make.
Obviously, I read things I would not normally read. It has been awesome to experience things I would never have tried yet loved, like The Cookbook Collector, by Allegra Goodman or The Hunger Games. My reluctance to read non-fiction has been identified: I don’t like the “and then, and then, and then” of some biographies (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang…I quit after over 200 pages). I don’t want to know the specifics of the problems of the world (Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman…read 50 pages), and spare me the footnotes (The Incredible Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot).
These are special people; through the interactions over our shared reading we have made special bonds. When you discuss people’s life experiences in books, you also discuss your own life experiences. When we read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, one member had a bouquet made for each of us with each flower’s attributes listed. We have bookmarks people have brought us from all over the world. We have friendship bracelets that you absolutely need another person to put on or take off.
I think I am leaving something out. We all genuinely like each other, oh, and did I mention that we eat and drink? Appetizers, wine, cocktails, full meals, dessert. The food sometimes is connected to the book, sometimes to the hostess’s mood that day. Seriously, we eat gourmet food. Even if you did not read the book this month…no problem. You still get to eat and drink and visit.
Last week, sitting out on a deck in the Santa Cruz Mountains drinking wines paired with each course, solving the problems of the world with my friends, I find myself thinking, wow, no wonder I love reading!