Thursday, March 18, 2010

Book Club Exchange - Lynn Cullen

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.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This sounds wonderful. I'm so happy o have won a copy recently.

bermudaonion said...

Sounds like a wonderful book club, but I don't think I'm smart enough to join that group!

Lynn Cullen said...

We are just regular moms! Some of us just got up our courage and went after our dreams as we got older. In my case, the support and encouragement of my book club through the years has helped to give me the strength to pursue my writing. I don't know what I would do without them!

Anonymous said...

I think this story is marvelous. And I appreciate the reminder of that great book AND LADIES OF THE CLUB. I remember wanting to join a group like that after reading it.

It's wonderful to share a connection with people in this way. That books club is a family, even though the members probably aren't related. Thanks for sharing!!

Unknown said...

This is Jan - little did I know when I suggested starting a book club how much it would mean in my life. These friends have become precious to me as we meld our thoughts to bring to life so many characters, almost every month for 23 years. Having an author as wise and wonderful as Lynn with us is indeed an honor. "I wonder what Lynn thinks of this book" is a common question when she cannot attend.

Annemarie said...

OMG (my son taught me that...) we are famous! and, Jerri, you have been outed for reading the last chapters first...I'm a relative newcomer in the club, perhaps 8 years (?) but I love what I learn and share with the ladies...

dogl said...

I would like to share the effects that this wonderful book club has had on me. I came to Atlanta in 2000 from Denmark to work at Georgia Tech. I did not know anybody at first but soon met and was invited by the ever thoughtful Jan to join the book club and through that met all these wonderful women, Lynn is talking about. The book club gave me an insight into the lives, thoughts and feelings of these women in a part of the world that I had no prior knowledge of. I learnt – and felt – the amazing network this group has. At one point, I had personal problems and nowhere to stay and within a couple of hours I was invited into Jerri’s home. Back in Denmark after a couple of years in Atlanta, I thought of starting up a book club here, but quite honestly felt that the attempt would somehow not live up to my expectations after my experience with the Ladies of the Atlanta Book Club. I am still in touch with the group and follow their readings, am thrilled to have had a visit from one of the members and am hoping to meet up with another one in Spain or wherever her inspiration takes her for her next novel! The Atlanta Book Club warms my heart and I love to follow their lives, upsets and happiness by still being part of the group, albeit only by emails. I hope to see you all in the not too distant future. Lots of happy reading. I miss you all and do so appreciate all the good times we have had together and the happy memories you have left me with from my two years in your part of the world - thank you, all you lovely ladies.

Cindy Hudson said...

What an interesting group, and it is so nice to hear about the connection continuing for so many years. The Awakening is on my reading list, particularly as I found that Kate Chopin grew up in a part of Louisiana not far from where I grew up. I've seen it on reading lists, and I know it's recommended as a classic, but I appreciate hearing your personal comments about the book.