Out of the Box – Sept. 2010

October 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Out Of The Box

The Value of a Book Club

By Mary Anne Street

Mary Anne Street

In 2003, my then-neighbor, Maggie and I started a book club. I was new to the Island, just getting to know people, and Maggie had two small children and was in need of some mental stimulation so it seemed like a good idea for both of us. We asked our other neighbors to join us and it rather snowballed to include acquaintances and friends until we had 12 people.

I hosted the first meeting, and as host I got to choose the book which was the classic, East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Twelve really wasn’t the best number, as in our excitement to talk about the book we ended up with four or five different “circles” talking all at once—a cacophony of organized noise! But with time, people dropped, joined up, moved on, joined up again, left again, and left town. We are now at a very good number – seven.

The first task was to choose a name. Now you can imagine 12 women trying to choose an appropriate name; we had 12 different ones, but we finally settled on the Book Belles. Our current group isn’t crazy about that name and we mention every year that we might change it but we just haven’t. Anyway, we are the Book Belles. (Note: Our husbands/significant others have their own meeting on book club nights. They call it the Men’s Auxiliary and their “meetings” take place at the Quarter Bar.)

Our club meets once a month at one member’s house, and that member gets to choose the book. This is the part that’s the best; I have read books that I normally would NEVER read, and most I’ve enjoyed. We all have different styles and different tastes, and we encourage each other to open our minds to other experiences and writing styles. It’s also amazing how the same book can result in a myriad of opinions and views. “Did we read the same thing?” I sometimes ask, as everyone brings something to the mix. The choices have made us all reach beyond our boundaries, making us better readers and better people.

The hostess serves dinner of some kind, and wine, and often the food matches the setting of the book. Tillie had Japanese/Chinese dishes for her book, The Corner of Bitter and Sweet. It was a lot of fun using chopsticks, eating Japanese candy, eating Asian food and trying Sake. One time the club was held at the Pier and we had a picnic. Lynn has had it at Hunter House—a real treat for us all.

Some of our books have been heart wrenching. My Sister’s Keeper, The Glass Castle, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and Half the Sky come to mind; some have made us mad (The Red Tent, Water for Elephants, and A Thousand Splendid Suns); and some hit close to home (Still Alice, about Alzheimer’s and The Middle Place about ageing parents and raising children). Some were written so beautifully that they made our hearts break (The Art of Racing in the Rain-a truly beautiful book with lessons to learn) and one, Waiting for Snow in Havana, opened our eyes to the state of things in Cuba. Because Maggie’s family had fled Cuba and Castro’s regime we were able to have a firsthand account at what that book was about and what heartbreak some Cubans suffered. This book was also just beautifully written.

Probably our most memorable book for discussion, though, was Annie Freeman’s Traveling Funeral, about a woman who dies and leaves her ashes to her friends, with instructions to go to the important places of her life and scatter them. The women in the book have discussions of their own as they travel across country and learn more about their friend and her life, AND about themselves. The questions presented in the story made us think about our own lives: “Who was the great love of your life?” “What death is in your earliest memory?” “Besides children, what things are most important to you?” After a few drinks, we reached down deep and answered these, sharing our experiences. It was quite poignant, and sticks in my mind as the most comprehensive and “fun” discussion of our meetings so far.

One surprise that has resulted from the club is the friendships. When I started it was just a book club. Now it’s a friendship club, as well. We celebrate births of grandchildren; mourn deaths of family members and friends; serve as sound boards during serious illnesses and family crises; and for a while, we were counselors to a couple of our transient members who were just generally discombobulated. Those experiences were intriguing, to say the least, but in their own way, satisfying, eye-opening and interesting.

We are now on our 67th book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and our next will be To Kill a Mockingbird in honor of its 50th anniversary. Our current members are Tillie Billheimer, Ann Bond, Regina Glass, Sarah Korff, Lynn Lynch, Becky Setliff, and me.

I cherish this book club and what it brings to my life. For some seven years I’ve gained some wisdom, experience, and perspective; I’ve cried, laughed and become awestruck at such exquisite writing, heartbreaking experiences, and clever stories. I’ve learned how we’re fighting terrorism by building schools (Three Cups of Tea), how important it is to fight for women’s rights around the world and how good women have it in the United States (Half The Sky), about the leper colonies of Hawaii (Moloka’i), about injustice in the old West (1,000 White Women), what it’s like for immigrants in the U.S. (The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears), and I’ve had the pleasure of reading just a really great mystery. I really can’t say enough good about book clubs on so many levels, and the value is priceless. If you like to read, it might be worth your while to start one. Here are some suggestions:

The Red Tent
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Water for Elephants
The Zookeeper’s Wife
When Crickets Cry
The Poisonwood Bible
Secret Flower and the Fan

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears
Annie Freeman’s Traveling Funeral
Basket Case
The Senator’s Wife
Three Cups of Tea
The Hour I First Believed
Secrets to Happiness
Still Alice
Protect & Defend
1,000 White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
The Time Traveler’s Wife
The Middle Place
Half the Sky
The Help
Half Broke Horses
Racing in the Rain
The Knitting Circle
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
A Thread of Sky
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
To Kill a Mockingbird
East of Eden
The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Refiner’s Fire
The Da Vinci Legacy
The Crimson Petal and the White
The Rule of Four
Savannah Blues
The Art of Mending
The Plot Against America
Lord Baltimore
The Secret Life of Bees
Waiting for Snow In Havana
The Book of Dead Birds
Ten Big Ones
Until I Find You
Ya Ya’s in Bloom
The Last Report on Miracles at Little No Horse
Memoirs of a Geisha
A Gracious Plenty
Five Quarters of the Orange
The Other Boleyn Girl
Goodnight Nobody
My Sister’s Keeper
The Kite Runner
The Dissident
Thirteen Moons
Pegasus Descending
The Glass Castle
The Clearing
Shadow of the Wind,
She’s Come Undone
Cat’s Cradle
Ahab’s Wife
In the Beauty of the Lilies

Mary Anne

Mary Anne Street is Concierge for Tybee Vacation Rentals
Contact her at MaryAnne@tybeevacationrentals.com

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