One hundred-and-one books make a reasonable reading list.
‘We could start a book club,’ my new friend said. ‘That way we’d get to read a lot of different books.’
‘Good idea,’ said another friend.
‘We could each invite one other person to join,’ I suggested. ‘That way we’d meet new people, too.’
That was eleven years and one hundred-and-one books ago.
People have discussed books since humans began to write. This process would have been hastened by invention of mechanical printing technology – the printing press – attributed to the German printer, Johannes Gutenberg, in 1450. We can imagine people who could otherwise not afford to buy a book for themselves sharing the cost and then meeting to discuss the contents of their treasure.
I highly recommend joining a book club as a way for older men and women (and of course people of all ages) to make new friends.A book club can be especially helpful for people whose life circumstances have changed, for example, when grown children move out of home; after retirement or the death of a partner; after downsizing to a new location, moving to a strange town or even to a different state.
Local libraries can usually recommend clubs in their areas and libraries often host their own book clubs. People who are not yet in the habit of reading regularly are welcome – older members encourage newcomers and share their interest in reading. Some authors post book club notes relating to their books on their web pages and blogs.(See my book club notes page on this site). Notes and questions make it easy for newly formed groups to get started, but after a while you’ll find your group generates its own discussions; these can be quite lively.
Many booksellers provide suggestions for books to read and discounts for the purchase of bulk orders. Private lending libraries can often provide multiple copies of some books, although the selection is often limited and there is a small fee.
Many authors, including me, are happy to accept invitations to attend meetings and talk with members about our own books and writing in general.
In the beginning, our little group of older women tossed around a few names. We didn’t take the task seriously , and nothing stuck. My daughter’s book club, formed by women whose children were in the local pre-primary school and still going strong after twenty years, calls itself ‘The Wining Women’. Other groups seem to have no problem inventing equally witty names. But after eleven and a half years, we are still ‘the book club’.
It seems pretentious that we said we’d read only books on the Miles Franklin Award lists or on what was then known as the Booker lists. Now our choice is more varied. That’s why we’ve read one-hundred-and-one books so easily.
I’m especially grateful for the support my book club provided during my PhD studies. In the final stages, they kindly agreed to read my book as that month’s book. They were the ‘friendly readers’ for the final drafts of my first memoir. I greatly valued their suggestions and input.
Books for discussion can be chosen in a number of ways. In our club, the hostess for the following month chooses the next book. Because the group is so small, we make sure the others are happy with our suggestion. Our choices reflect our individual tastes and passions. We have lunch, but most book clubs share coffee and biscuits during their meetings.
In the beginning, we made desultory efforts to increase our numbers but, in the end, decided to stick with the original small group. Sadly, several of the women have since drifted away. That might mean that we can claim we are one of the world’s smallest book clubs!
Over time, we have become much more than book club members. We do read and discuss books; and we pass around photos of weddings and grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We commiserate over each other’s inevitable personal and family heartaches and mishaps, and celebrate joys together.
Our tiny book club suits us. For one thing, with so few members, it is easy to arrange (and often rearrange) meetings to fit in with each other’s commitments – travel, medical appointments, baby-sitting assignments. If we miss a ‘formal’ monthly meeting, those who are available meet for coffee.
In 2013, we read
Montebello – Robert Drewe (2012)
Whisky Charlie Foxtrot – Annabel Smith (2013)
The Paris Wife – Paula MacLain (2011)
Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel (2009)
The People Smuggler – Robin de Respigny (2012)
Lost Voices – Christopher Koch (2012)
And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini (2013)
Eventide – Kent Haruf (2004)
Eyrie – Tim Winton (2013)