Last year, I reviewed a beautifully written novel called PRECIOUS by Sandra Novack. I was initially drawn to the story because it took place not too far from my home; however, I quickly became caught up in the story and Ms. Novack's writing style. I had no doubt in my mind that PRECIOUS would make a wonderful book club pick!
Today, I am glad to welcome Ms. Novack to Book Club Exchange. In this essay, she writes about her experiences with starting a book club! I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.
Once when I was new to the South and living in a very rural community, I formed a reading group. The appeal was obvious in that a reading group combined two of my favorite things, fiction and discussion, with what I imagined would be a goodly amount of food and booze. I sent up a resounding Yipee! to the former and a double Whoa-ha-ha!! to the latter, deeming the prospect of such wondrous, worldly collisions a total win-win. I placed an ad in the paper. Then I fretted. I hoped that if I had to meet total strangers they would at least possess a refreshing amount of deviance that would rival my own. (Who likes to be the most socially deviant person at the table? Not I! I thought.) I asked the universe to send me only people I was supposed to meet, and then secretly I hoped the people I was “supposed to meet” wouldn’t be axe-murderers, because I’m really not that deviant a person, after all.
Four women sent back affirming responses and showed up at my door with wine and plates of food and books in hand. Like the best things in life, we were all a motley crew of varied interests and personalities. One woman was a professional poker player who regularly competed in high stakes tournaments, and she possessed an unparalleled wit and gregariousness nature. Another was an animal behaviorist who spent many years overseas and who brought a worldly, academic perspective to things. Then there was a good-natured, spazzy poet who read widely and who composed works of poetry shaped like vaginas--it was a feminist thing. We even had a Baptist Sunday School teacher with a beautiful operatic voice, a woman who, on top of all this, was an unabashed swinger. (Yes. You heard me right.)
Then there was me. As the self-declared nerd of the bunch, I resisted the urge to create study cards for each work under discussion. I told myself: Self, do not look up secondary references to bolster your own arguments. I said, Self, do not plan entire conversations in advance of any meeting. I fantasized about us all sitting around and having deep conversations about transformative ‘ah-ha’ book moments, making studious observations about the poignancy of a poetic passage or discussing an illuminating metaphor or symbol. And those post-postmodern works…did they even have a plot? Surely that conversation could eat up hours. After our first meeting, I wanted to hug each one of these women. I wanted to thank them for giving me something to look forward to besides a view of dairy cows and ducks, neither of which was offensive, really, but neither of which provided much conversation beyond the occasional moo or quack, either.
We ate a lot. We drank our fair share of wine. And we talked fiction. I don’t know that we always actually read the selections. At least I know I sometimes didn’t. Sometimes I’d do a quick Wiki search to find out plot or influences or a main character’s name. Sometimes I’d quote secondary references. I most assuredly rolled my eyes when someone picked a 2000 page book, and then I’d scramble to read the first two hundred pages before deciding that I didn’t have to talk about the ending. I just didn’t have to go there. Some books I read and loved and gushed over. Some books I hated, but because someone else loved them I gave them another chance. And when we talked about poetry I knew I could always say, “I just don’t GET this poem. What do you think vagina-girl?”
In the end, it was really all okay, the evolving shape of discussion, this group of motley women who Icame to call friends. I loved how a work of literature often became a springboard, a way not only to discuss what was on the page, but also to discuss things on our minds, or to share something about ourselves, and our own lives, which, after all, were real lives, in the real world, and not fictions on a page. It was over a book that I first learned my new friend suffered from excruciating medical problems, and over a book that another friend admitted she struggled so hard with her role as a mother and was, like the main character, unhappy in her marriage. It was with them I first admitted that my sister ran away when I was seven, and that I never saw her again, with them I confessed that I had an idea for my own novel and was met with encouragement.
At the kitchen table, in the living room, hanging out on the back deck, books on our laps, drinking wine, eating someone’s handmade goodies, we came together. We read. Or didn’t. We shared stories. We harnessed that particular kind of power—transformative, ancient, tribal—that happens when women join together in groups.
And it all began with a book.
I am so grateful to Ms. Novack for writing this fabulous guest post about her experience with her book club. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.
Giveaway alert: Thanks to the publisher, I have one copy of the newly released paperback edition of PRECIOUS to share with one lucky reader. To enter, just fill out the form below. I will be accepting entries until September 14th at 11:59 p.m. ET and I will notify the winner the following day. Contest is open to those of you with U.S. and Canada mailing addresses only. Good luck!