Sunday, April 11, 2010

Book Club Exchange: Gabrielle Burton

I am so excited that Gabrielle Burton, author of IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE, has joined us with a terrific guest post for my Book Club Exchange feature. I recently reviewed this fascinating book, and I think anyone who enjoys historical fiction or books about adventures will appreciate it.

Ms. Burton provides another interesting take on book clubs. I love that even though Ms. Burton isn't a member of a book club she still recognizes the value of a book club in many of our lives.

I love to talk to book clubs, but I've never been in a real one. I thought Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn was such an important book I invited 20 women to my home to discuss it. It was a lively and moving evening with ongoing ramifications, but that was a one-time book club, so you can't really count it. My feeling for the book--passion, wanting to share it, inspired to action--was one book club members will recognize, but because most of us were already overextended--a feeling most book club members will also recognize--we didn't make the commitment to continue to meet.

But my daughter, Jenn, who, like many young mothers working outside and inside the home, has too many demands on too little time, never misses her book club. I asked her what she liked about her book club and here's what she said.

1. It makes her read a book a month. She has a PhD in literature, and reads constantly for her work, but rarely for her own pleasure. Like a class assignment--or a good excuse--the club basically gives her permission to do something for herself.

2. At the same time, the book club is by its very nature, something larger than the self. It's a communal, not a solitary, experience.

3. It changes the way she reads. Thinking of how she might discuss the book, she engages with it in a deeper and different way than if she read it silently by herself.

4. She reads books she might not ordinarily read or be drawn to. That broadens her interests as well as making her think about why she is or isn't drawn to certain books.

5. The emphasis is on the book, but important things happening in people's lives go into the conversation. The discussions give her a venue into other's lives. Give her a measurement, a gauge, for her own experience.

6. It forces her to see her friends at least once a month. In the juggle of work, children, spouse, house, time with friends is often the first thing to be pushed or postponed. Book club date is set in stone.

7. It forces her to entertain--have a dinner party--at least once a year.
Listening to Jenn, I had a rush of memory of my own barely keeping afloat in the roaring waters of parenting. A memory of the intellectual and social richnesses that were often eliminated by obligations to others. Obligations of love that had their own richnesses, yes, but still obligations.

And to think, that thousands of groups of women have managed to carve out one little corner called Book Club just for themselves and their intellectual and social nourishment. How little time invested and what great dividends paid! Stimulation. Aesthetic pleasure. Broadening of the mind. Camaraderie. Bonds, formed by regular meetings and rich discussions, that last years and become the basis for lifetime friendships.

In olden days, women talked and succored each other while they canned for the winter or made quilts. In the 70s, consciousness-raising groups changed women and the world.

And now we have book clubs. You don't have to be in one to see what an important cultural phenomenon they are.


Gabrielle Burton's novel HEARTBREAK HOTEL was awarded the Maxwell Perkins Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association's New Writers Award. It was reprinted by the prestigious Dalkey Archive Press. She has been a Yaddo fellow, a MacDowell Colony fellow, and the Bernard De Voto Fellow in Nonfiction at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. Also a screenwriter, Burton lives in Venice, California.

I am so grateful to Ms. Burton for her special post about the benefit of book clubs for women. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.


bermudaonion said...

Fantastic guest post! I agree we all need some time just for ourselves and book club is a great way to spend it. I'm really curious about Half the Sky now.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

What a great list about the benefits of a book club! It makes you feel like your life is all the poorer if you are *not* in one!

Cindy Hudson said...

I love Ms. Burton's list of reasons to be in a book club. And I totally agree with her ending comment that just a little investment of time in a group like this can have so many ramifications for the rest of your life. Thanks Booking Mama for featuring this focus on book clubs once a week.