A couple of years ago, my good friend and fellow book club member KC, gave me this t-shirt that describes pretty well the therapeutic value of the Tallahassee book club. For years, it was a place to sit with like-minded (not all the time!) friends, discuss politics, life in general — the good and the bad — and sometimes even the book. We read all manner of books from the silly — The YaYa Sisterhood — to classics like Sense and Sensibility. We read the same mystery that Obama was reading years ago — Lush Life by Richard Price. There was a structure to the evening — wine provided by the host and food brought by everyone else. Once we had all desserts, another time all salads, and each time at least one plate of hummus. Our group ranged from strict vegetarians to carnivores but the food was secondary. We welcomed into the world two babies, watched children grow into avid readers, and shared work woes, personal stories, and very different perspectives on the books we chose to read. We shared death, illness, weddings, showers, and graduations. It was a different kind of friendship and there were no boundaries.
Choosing books was unstructured to say the least and sometimes we were all tired after working all day so whoever came up with a title and spoke the loudest chose what we would read. Sometimes we tried to bring recommendations with us — KC always had a list, I brought ideas from Diane Roehm on NPR, Beth read the New York Times Book Review and The New Yorker. Loree always wanted a classic. I must admit, I enjoyed that aspect of our group because it challenged me to move out of my comfort zone. We had a few duds — I chose one — Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. I loved it and thought it very provocative but no one else seemed to agree. My good friend, Beth, chose On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. It goes down in book club history so far as the most disliked book and of course I was not-too-secretly relieved to be rid of the mantle of having chosen the worst book. Beth and I laugh about this still even though it was 5 years ago!!
Book club was, for me, an important part of my life so when I left Tallahassee and moved north, I tried to keep up. I still read the books and once even phoned in my thoughts on the book and talked to everyone. But…it wasn’t the same. So I looked for a new way to have book club, be encouraged to read different books, and share with friends. My friend and colleague, Sharon, once said that she would like to try a virtual book club and that I was retired so I should figure it out. At first, I thought video and investigated a couple of options but that didn’t seem to work. My daughter-in-law Allison said she’d look into it for me and she established a chat room through which we all share our thoughts, sometimes even about the book!! I was skeptical that typing responses to others who were also sitting on their own would be boring or not much fun. Quite the opposite — I laugh the whole time, we all drink wine or some beverage, and have an online discussion about the book. I am smiling now just thinking about it.
Tonight is our third virtual book club meeting. It now includes friends from Tallahassee, Florida, Asheville, North Carolina, Durham, North Carolina, somewhere in the midwest (Indiana?), London, England. All ages are represented — from mid-30s to mid-60s. It is more fun than I thought it would ever be — our conversation drifts sometimes as everyone gets to know one another. We include a wine pairing with the book although we haven’t yet discussed the wines. For tonight we will discuss The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and we are all grateful to Sharon for not choosing huckleberry wine!! Although, who would know? I feel very fortunate to have this new book club format that works even when snowed in. I look forward to tonight and have my wine already picked out!