I,like many women of a certain age, belong to a book club. In fact I am the founder member of mine which has been running for five years so far and is still going strong. We meet once a month in each others’ houses to discuss the latest book choice and any other subject that tickles our fancy. It is something that, most of the time, I enjoy and look forward to.
I didn’t set out with the intention of starting a book club. What I was actually considering was going back to university to study English. I greatly enjoyed the subject at school and, had I not read Law, I believe that English would have been my course of choice. Law is a means to an end. It’s not much use for anything except being a lawyer and five years ago I thought that that part of my life was over. I felt that I wanted to study something that interested me and to study as an adult who wanted to learn rather than a child pretending to be an adult who had too many other things to think about.
However, there was one little fly in the ointment. I had four children, the eldest of whom was only seven. Perhaps now wasn’t the best time to be committing myself to a three year course? Instead I gave some careful thought as to what I was hoping to gain from undertaking a second degree. I decided that what I really wanted to do was to read good books and discuss them with other people. The solution was obvious, required far less effort and was considerably cheaper! The next time I was out for coffee with my closest friends I tentatively mentioned my embryonic idea of a book club and was greeted with such a high level of enthusiasm that I was left with no choice but to set it up.
There were four of us at the outset and we all decided to invite someone else to join. The idea was to invite as diverse a group of people as possible to enhance our discussions but as it turned out everyone other than my choice had children at the school. Pretty quickly we were eight and we were off. We quickly discovered that the hardest part of a book club is choosing what to read. In the early days when we were all feeling a little bit insecure, we thought we would take it in turns to pick a book. This led to our first defection when someone took umbrage that the group didn’t appreciate her choice and left. It was a terrible book though!
In an attempt to try and make the choices less personal I suggested that we follow the Richard and Judy list. The benefits were obvious. If no one had chosen the book then we could all feel free to voice our views about it truthfully without fear of upsetting anyone. The downside was one of pure snobbery. Weren’t we intellectually superior to Richard and Judy? It turned out that we weren’t. There were one or two duds in the list that we followed but we also read some cracking novels and in that first year our confidence in ourselves and each other grew considerably.
Now we have developed a new system to choose books without criticising the picker. When your month is approaching, you come to the meeting with a couple of options and then we vote to pick the one that we will read. This way the ultimate decision for the choice lies with the group and not one individual and it seems to work quite well.
Over the years we have got to know each other much better. I can generally predict who will enjoy a book and who will find it a bit of a challenge. Certain people tend to choose particular types of books, biographies for example or women’s fiction. Also, some people don’t always get the book read and turn up full of excuses and apologies.
It doesn’t always go quite as I might hope. Sometimes the book only gets a cursory mention in and amongst the latest playground gossip. On nights like this it is very plain that the book club is a poor substitute for my English degree. A couple of months ago I was on the verge of leaving. I had decided that my time with the group had reached its natural conclusion and I went to the meeting ready to resign. As I sat there following the discussion and waiting for the moment to drop my bombshell, it occurred to me that despite its failings this was something to which I belonged and that in itself is worth more to me than I had realised.
And so I go on. Each month there is always a bit of a rush to get the book finished in time and often I never get to read anything but the club selection which can be a little limiting. We have just had our second departure. One of the original four now has a full time job and no longer has the time to devote to our group. We are faced with the interesting task of selecting a replacement. Everyone has an idea as to who might add something new. There has even been discussion of introducing a male member. Radical. Not what I would choose. Men change the dynamics and that isn’t always a good thing. But we will see which way the vote goes.
So here we are, five years on and still going strong. When others have fallen by the wayside our club soldiers on. Will we stay the course for another five years? Time will tell. Will I ever get round to studying English again? I really do hope so.