Today, I'd like to welcome Lynn Cullen, author of the historical fiction novel THE CREATION OF EVE. I recently read and reviewed this fantastic novel, and I am so excited that Ms. Cullen agreed to write a guest post for Book Club Exchange! I know I can definitely relate to many of her feelings about her personal book club.
Twenty-three years ago, after another mind-numbing PTA fund-raiser meeting in the school cafeteria, a friend, Jan, approached me with an idea: why don’t we start a book club? She had just read AND LADIES OF THE CLUB and was intrigued by the story, in which a book club became the connecting thread that bound together the lives of the characters. Plus, how great would it be to talk about books?
Well, while the thought of a club that sustained a group of women through triumphs and tears sounded like the stuff of novels, getting together to discuss books did appeal to me a whole lot more than talking wrapping paper sales. I was in.
Five of us met in Sue’s den that first night. Two of us were English majors, one was a former librarian, one a mathematician, and one, the visionary who proposed the club, an administrative type education major who wanted to learn how to think critically about books. All of us had young children.
That night, over our glasses of wine, we felt as giddy as escapees from prison. We were going to talk about ideas and philosophy and the construction of books! We were going to be ourselves—not moms, not wives, not office workers—but for a few hours, our thinking, true selves. We chose Kate Chopin’s THE AWAKENING as our first selection. That would prove to be a telling choice.
In THE AWAKENING, written in 1899, a young wife and mother whose proscribed life stifles her pursues her sexual attraction to a man better suited to her intellectually than her husband. Of course that works out badly. The main character cannot have both a life of comfort and a life of intellectual and sexual stimulation. Come to think of it, that’s the young Queen Elisabeth’s storyline in THE CREATION OF EVE! Had that first book club choice left a deeper mark on me than I ever imagined? Had that story and our discussion of it led to a book I would write twenty years later?
I had no idea of that then. I was just beginning to try my hand at writing children’s books, having been inspired by the middle-grade novels that I was supposed to be shelving (but was actually reading) as a volunteer in the school library. None of us had any notion that among us there would someday be a medical researcher, a law firm manager, an advocate for brain injury patients, a media specialist, and a novelist. We were moms just trying to keep our heads above water.
In the ensuing years, we reached out to neighborhood friends who loved to read. Our book club swelled to over 30 members, though time and life experiences have kept the number of active members to around 20. We have cried together over personal crises, celebrated our triumphs, and laughed with affection over our individual predilections, like the member who enjoys reading the last chapter of a book first, or the one who will only read books with a happy ending. When a baby is born or a family member dies, the book club email list springs into action. At our meetings, we discuss our childhood heartbreaks, our worries for our children, our dreams for the future. We discuss taboo subjects like politics, religion, and sexuality, and if we don’t agree, that’s all right. Because we are so much more than a group of women talking books over a glass of wine. We are the ladies of the club.
Here’s to you, Jan Johnstone, and to twenty-three more years of awakening.
Lynn Cullen is the author of THE CREATION OF EVE as well as the young adult novel I AM REMBRANDT'S DAUGHTER, an ALA Best Book of 2008, and several other acclaimed books for children. She lives with her husband in Atlanta.
I am so grateful to Ms. Cullen for sharing a little bit about her book club with us. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.