I recently went to my book club's final meeting. Over tapas and lots of laughs, we caught up on careers and families, exchanged recommendations for new reads, and then, after five years and several dozen books, we said goodbye. Not as friends, of course; but to our fun, successful experiment in organized bookishness.
And I've been in a funk ever since.
It might seem overdramatic, but it's true: There's now a book-club-sized hole in my schedule, and my heart. The members of this club saw me through a long bout with infertility; a high-risk pregnancy that included emergency hospitalization; and seven months of deep, deep sleep deprivation after the birth of my premature twins, when I barely left my house.
I've only been a member of this one particular club, but I know what made it so nourishing for me, and I thought I'd share the ingredients:
Mama's Best-Ever Book Club
10 lbs. Reasonable, shared expectations.
In our club, everyone was looking for a low-pressure commitment. And by low I mean practically subterranean.
We wanted to be able to show up to our pot-luck gatherings having not finished the book, having forgotten to bring a dish, having burned our dish, having forgotten to put on pants. We wanted to be able to bail at the last minute—for any reason, or for no reason at all—without getting the stink-eye at the next meeting.
And it all worked out. We saw each other more or less monthly and had lively, interesting discussions every time. We never went hungry. By the end of our run, we even met at
my messy, chaotic house during my preschoolers' bedtime
routine. Twice! Miraculously, we're all still friends.
Perhaps you want something more rigorous? That sounds
awesome. The important thing is to talk it all through at the
start, as that sort of dish comes out of the oven a good bit
harder to handle.
5-6 People you'd gladly grab a drink or coffee with.
We didn't stack our club with folks of similar tastes. But we had members who handled difficult conversations respectfully and who thought about things with nuance.
Soon, we wanted to talk to each other about things outside our book selections. And before long, we weren't even mentioning those until half-way through the evening or later, so busy were we in chatting about news and family and other non-bookish things.
Like any home cook, you gotta find out what sits well
with you, and embrace it. It leads to a healthier system.
1 S#!t-ton open-mindedness
We read widely and bravely. I highly recommend embracing multiple genres; reading a very old book with rusty sentence structure and junky, obsolete words; throwing in a classic every now again, especially one you've wanted to read but couldn't get through on your own (ANNA *cough, cough* KARENINA *cough, cough*); and reading a bestseller that's recently been adapted into a movie, so you can go as a group to see it and then talk about how much better the book was.
Some of them will be stinkers, and that's OK. Others will be pleasantly, surprisingly aromatic.
Season with individual wants and needs, to taste
Advocate for what you love about book club. And when things need changing, ask to change them. Where you meet, the day of the week you meet on, the frequency of meetings, the manner in which you choose books.
Does the idea of cooking one more goddamn dish make you stabby? Say so, and volunteer to order take-out for your next meeting.
And the reverse is just as important: Is there a shy member
who quietly loves M/M Cozy Steampunk Erotic Suspense
Anthologies? Spicy! Encourage them to suggest a book in that
genre, or find a local event celebrating it that you can all
attend together. (Then please call and invite me because that
Some book clubs don't work out that well, I hear. There's not enough commitment to finishing books for some members' tastes, or too great a burden on a few to host, feed, and organize. Maybe disagreements are expressed a bit too vehemently.
But when a book club does work out, it's sublime. I can vividly recall sitting in my pitch-dark family room, some godforsaken hour on the clock, pumping my breasts then bottle-feeding and rocking one underweight baby after the other, exhausted beyond all comprehension. The only light in the room came from my tiny cell phone, where I was scrolling through CINNAMON AND GUNPOWDER, our book club selection for that month.
And I finished that book—despite not having time to dress, shower, or think straight—because I had a date coming up with people who cared about me, and who didn't care that I wouldn't be able to host them for awhile, or that I routinely showed up with a re-gifted bottle of wine in-hand, looking like I'd just taken a dip in some Crisco. But I hit those doorsteps with a smile on my face, because I needed a glimpse of the world outside the fevered-cabin that my house had become, rather desperately, and my beloved book club gave me that—in multiple, rejuvenating ways.