Real Women - Real Community

For the past few weeks I've been working on something. I use 'working' loosely because, really, I haven't been working at anything. More of a pecking away.

I'm starting a book club / reading group in our small neighborhood. I hoped one would already be up and running, but it was not. So if I want it to happen it's up to me.

We wondered, when we moved here just over a year ago, if we'd have enough privacy. After a year of being here we know less than a handful of people. There's Barbara, the lady with the chihuahua, the house with a yellow ribbon tied around the tree in their front yard, the widow who moved from California, but there are only a few whose owner's name we know, and we've had more than a paragraph of conversation with.

The neighborhoods where we grew up weren't like that. Fifty years later, I still remember Danny Bacon who lived on the corner and had freckles across his nose; Pam Costilla's kinky crazy black hair and the canoe ride where we sipped warm beer; the crazy Erwins, all eight of them, who lived across the street and their Daddy hid in the back bedroom, playing his electric guitar; plump, odd Rose who was being raised by grandparents and had a hard time making friends; the older couple who lived next door and hired me to babysit their weenie dog. We borrowed sugar and eggs and played and fought and watched out for each other. That was back when neighborhoods were more than a bunch of houses that shared a zip code.

That doesn't happen anymore, we don't live that way. But maybe we can try to recreate that just a little?  We can know each other's names and hearts and life situations. We can pitch in and lend a hand when it's needed. We can have community. This woman talked about that very thing today.  I would venture to say we need each other more now than we did back then, in spite of being less isolated than my mother was, in spite of more so-called connection, often with people we don't really - and never will - actually know. Maybe all our friends don't have to be on social media but we never actually see them? Maybe many of these cozy looking houses are filled with lonely people?

In the past I've made friends through church or my kids' school activities. Our kids don't live with us anymore, and although we still attend church regularly, I want a bigger circle than that. I want people who see the world differently than I do; who believe differently; who live differently, have different life situations than I do. I expect that is true right here in my neighborhood. I want to be stretched by my friends.

I also want to rub shoulders with women who want to know. They want to know what it's like to live in a place or time where women have no rights, to have a  disease, to deal with life situations we haven't actually experienced. I'd like to get to know other women who want to be with other women, while enlarging our worlds, in the coziness of each other's homes. That's it in a nutshell.

I've also learned, as most of you likely have, what type of woman I want to gather close to my heart, and who to keep at a distance. She doesn't count the cost, gives more than she gets, makes mistakes and asks to be forgiven, tells me and forgives me when I mess up, laughs and cries with me, and drinks coffee and / or wine. She has bad hair days, kids that didn't turn out perfect, didn't ace the SAT, and she loves them with all she has anyway, or at least she wants to. She isn't mean-spirited, or prim. She may occasionally let a curse word slip. On her bad days it may be on purpose. She's got some stuff going on in her life and is willing to admit it. I only need a few of those women but I do need a few. If I found one from this group that would be great, and maybe others in our neighborhood will also.

I'd give up all my other interests, to keep books. I'd give up the yarn and fabric and pots and pans and swim goggles movies and TV shows, and this blog, to keep books. I don't remember learning to read, or when I fell in love with books, but I do remember the smell of the bookmobile, my little blue cardboard Terrell Park Library card and the three books I'd take home with me every week. I remember the musty smell that wafted from the pages of Nancy Drew books, and reading about Helen Keller and Benjamin Franklin and Perry Mason and Nurse Sue Barton, and so many others who made my world bigger. They still do.

I just finished Still Alice last week, and understand better what my mother is experiencing. Reading Delicious by Ruth Reichl sent me in search of James Beard cookbooks and eggs to make soufflés; Right now I'm reading The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, making me wonder how I would have seen the world during the time of slavery. War Brides, All the Light We Cannot See, Tender at the Bone, As I Lay Dying, The Unlikely Pligrimage of Harold Fry - all these have provided 'wisdom, succor, escape' (as someone else put it), these first few months of the year when I've felt worn out, challenged, sad, overwhelmed.

So I'm hoping to find a group of women in our neighborhood who feel, at least partly, the same way about books. Or friendships with other women. Who see how important it is that we still gather together, share our hearts, stretch our perspective and if we don't agree, a't least we respect the way someone else sees the world, or lives in it. So far I've gotten about half a dozen women who are interested, and we'll meet in May to see if we can get this up and running. I hope so.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "the only way to have a friend is to be one." I can live in this house, in this neighborhood, for another year and not know anyone, or I can be intentional and start a group. I'm hoping this book club will grow some great friendships, and possibly eggs and sugar will be handed across fences now and then.

If you've been a part of a book club, and have any books to suggest for our reading list, please leave it in the comments. Also, do you read only Fiction, Non-Fiction, both? Do you share hosting? Leading? I've read a gazillion books but have never been a part of a book club so I could use some input.


P.S. Happy 1st day of spring!


Gretchen said…
Oh, friend. What i wouldn't give to be part of that book club. I had one back in CO over 15 years ago, and even though I joined one here in WA right after we moved, I think I just wasn't in the right mindset, so I quit attending. It was a well-established group, I was the youngest (in age and life stage) by at least 5 years, and I just didn't feel all the way welcomed. So, I let it go. Have wanted to join or build one ever since, but have put it off for one reason or another. Thanks for the inspiration to revisit this experience. Because when it is good, it's very, very good. My bookclub ladies (in CO) were my lifeline after losing my mom.

Here's what we did:

*met monthly, and rotated houses; you could meet at a coffee house, but we preferred the intimacy and quiet of someone's family room, kitchen, or back yard patio.

*Hostess chose the book. Nonfiction or Fiction. Some of us were more highbrow than others, so there were some broccoli "good for you" reads, and some ice cream "just good" reads.

*Discussion nibbles usually included coffee and light snacks, though occasionally, we did do brunch or what-have-you. We tended to meet on Saturday mornings. I know with my mom's book club, and with some others, people like to make a menu which might be associated with the book (e.g. low country boil for a Dottie Benton Frank book; Amish friendship bread for a book set in Amish country). The only thing I would caution against, however, depending on how harried your neighbors are, is not making the set up and food such a priority that people feel pressured and choose to skip it.

*You don't strike me as this way, but I'm a bit of a perfectionist (recovering, I hope), and I had to get over myself when my friends showed up and hadn't read the book, especially if it was one that I picked, haha. Pride, anyone? From what you describe, the primary idea is connection, and the book club is a vehicle for that. :)
*Decide whether kids will be welcome or not, etc. and set boundaries (e.g. will you read secular books, only, or is it ok to throw in some Christian writers) with your first meeting, just to keep everyone on the same page. Part of the reason we did ours on a Sat am is because many of us had children from whom we wished a break, and husbands/older siblings could watch them then. Also, if you have working gals in your group, weekends tend to have better availability.

*As for the discussions, themselves, we felt that they happened organically. Basically, we started with whether we liked the book or not and why. If the next host didn't have a book in mind, she looked to the peanut gallery for suggestions. Nowadays, I see a lot of reader's group discussions in many novels.

I think that's about it. You've given me lots to think about. :) Oh, and our first book was Shadow Song, by Terry Kay.

Bev said…
Oh Gretchen, the 2000 miles that separates continues to grieve me. Saturday is a great idea, and I'm not a rule follower (authority issues?), so I love letting the lady decide if we'll meet in her home or at a cafe. We have a Panera close by and they're very generous with letting you use their meeting room. I told my husband, just last night, telling someone they can't participate because they didn't read the book doesn't seem right to me. For example, The Help - you wouldn't have to talk long til you'd get to issues rather than paragraphs and I remember too being at that stage where I just needed to be with women, but didn't have time to do the lesson.

My husband also asked, what if they want to read Fifty Shades of Gray..... praying against that. But it would be good to discuss genres of book at the beginning. As always I so appreciate your input, very helpful!
Anonymous said…
Hi again, Bev......Forgot to let you know the comment was from Connie!
Anonymous said…
Oh my, did my original comment not come up? I'll give it a little time - it was kinda long! Connie
Sarah said…
Ok, I think you know all this already, but here's what ours does:

This year we meet the 3rd Tues pm of each month, after kids are in bed. No kids, no husbands 😊

We voted on a list of suggested books last year--all fiction this time, all less than 400 pages

Hostess provides snacks/drinks

A couple of our mtgs will be at a local bookstore that allows clubs to come meet

No rules about finishing the book--we all know it's ideal but sometimes not realistic!

Our group is an open group, and of the 15 or so women in it, about 6-10 show up each month

That's it! We are casual, just a group of friends/acquaintances/sisters from CDA. Nice 😊
Bev said…
Thank you sweet Sarah, sounds like my kind of book club! You know I'm allergic to rules, so we're going to have not very many of those. And 400 pages is a good rule since women / moms will have a tough time getting through anything longer than that in a month.

Connie - comment never showed up! So sad I missed it. I'll keep watching as sometimes things fly around in cyberspace awhile before they finally land.
Gretchen said…
Sarah! You moved to CDA about an hour ago, and you already have a book club (sans husbands and kids, no less)?!!!! Girl, you rock!
Anonymous said…
Hi Bev........Here are the highlights of my missing post!

(1) I'd suggest planning books more than a month ahead. It gives time to get a book if it's on hold at the library, to borrow from someone, or to buy. Also, our little local book store had a special area for local book clubs (be sure to give your group a name!). They'd have the last month, current month, and next month's books to peruse or buy. It's a great place to get ideas for your own group! So, they would need time to get that all ready.
(2) For December, we'd have a Christmas party instead of a regular meeting. We would each bring a wrapped book (new or used) to give away, assign months for the new year, and just talk about how the year went.
(3) Above all, have fun! We always encouraged people to come even if they didn't read the book. They could still join in the conversation because it always dealt with life, and everyone had opinions about that!

Good luck with the book club. You'll love it! :)
Bev said…
Hello Connie (finally came through!), so appreciate your comments. I was thinking of a Christmas party, possible gift exchange and a book exchange is perfect - I would never have thought of that. Also thinking end of year get-together with spouses allowed, around our pool, appetizers, drinks, to get to know each other a bit better. Great idea to check with our library, and small bookstores to see if they'd carry our books. I know some libraries even keep their past bookclub books, in large number, on their shelves for private book clubs to check out. All worth investigating. And I've got a name to suggest to the group. It's surprising to me that our neighborhood is 16+ years old and a reading group never started. And absolutely fun - I'm not a big rule follower, so I'm hoping we lean hard on the grace side - if you don't want to lead, host, talk, finish the book, etc. that's okay with me. Sometimes we just need to be included in a circle of kindred souls. Thanks for taking time to stop by, much appreciated!
Kathy said…
Check with your local library for Book Club kits. Our big city library had a number of current and classic titles available, 10 books in a plastic tote with discussion questions. This way no one is obligated to buy a book they may or may not read and maybe cannot afford.
Bev said…
Kathy, great idea to check and see what the library offers. Sounds like a pretty simple setup! I do know books can be so expensive these days, so library checkout is a great way to go. Thanks for stopping by and saying hello.

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