Sunday, 7 February 2016

Book Club

A few years ago - five? six? or probably more? we started a Book Club for people who live in our small road on the edge of our small town. The idea was to restrict it geographically so that no one had to drive and we could have the occasional bottle of wine if we felt like it.
Initially fourteen people wanted to be part of it, but over time and for various reasons the numbers declined and for several years now we have remained at a steady ten. We are all women. We didn't intend that sort of restriction on membership, but it has just happened that way. Perhaps men are not so interested to be part of such a group? It would probably be daunting for any man to join in now, which is not what we intended. We meet monthly, and people volunteer to host.

We read. Of course we read lots of books that we suggest to each other, or that are suggested by other people, other sources. The reading triggers some animated discussion and personal responses. Sometimes there are uncomfortable thoughts. Always there is a wide range of responses, through which we learn a lot about each other and even more about ourselves.

I'm not going to supply our reading list, only to say that it's very diverse and very democratically selected.
At first we got books from our local library which supplied a list of books with multiple copies so that we could order well ahead. As a group we went through the lists and made our selections, and then I often had to make multiple visits to the library to try and collect the right number of books at the right time. Books were on loan throughout the County and were often not returned on their due dates or had generally gone walk-about.

So then we decided to buy copies, enough for us to share around, on-line or from charity shops, and to spread out the reading time we organised a DVD session every other month. Where possible the DVDs are linked to the reading. We put a pound in a pot each time and the idea is for the host to use that money to fund drinks and biscuits. But often there is a fair amount in the pot, so we save up and have a bit of a party.

Those are the sort-of bones of the group, but it has become so much more than that.
We are mostly close neighbours who used to smile at one another and say, 'Good morning', and now there is the most supportive  web of friendship. We don't see one another for days on end, but we have the knowledge that in the background there is always someone to help, always a listening ear, always someone with the kettle just about to boil.
For people who live alone, and quite a few of us do, this sort of support  is invaluable. I cannot tell you how much this group supported me through tough times, and how much that means to me now.

We do other things.
We exchange plants, give each other fruits and vegetables, make each other go for walks, admire each other's gardens, have days out and laugh a lot.

Not everyone reads all the books, and the reasons why people find a book difficult are just as interesting as the reasons for enjoying it. (I can't get into fantasy or the Watership Down sort of anthropomorphic writing, while others in the group love it.)  Sometimes people simply don't have time to read, but they come along anyway and just enjoy the friendship and the herbal teas.

Book Groups, even one as informal as ours, make you read and think about things that you might not do otherwise. They can be challenging in several ways, but as a means of getting to know your neighbours I don't think they can be beaten.


Zhoen said...

Ok, you've impelled me, thanks.

Elephant's Child said...

I don't think I have ever read anything which inspired me to seek out a Book Club as much as this does. The building of a community - which is sadly lacking here.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: I was thinking of you and your community.

E.C. I think we should call it a friendship group, rather than a book club, but it really has worked so well for us all.

pohanginapete said...

I've known of several book clubs and they've all comprised only women — but not, as far as I'm aware, because men wouldn't have been welcomed. I suspect the reasons are varied, but once an all-woman group has formed, maybe it's uncomfortable for a man to join? (I generalise wildly, of course.) I imagine the group dynamics would change, perhaps considerably. Maybe many men think of all-women book clubs as similar to hen parties and are too chicken to join, or maybe they just fear being the odd man out? (Sorry, must be something in the water this morning ;-))

For my part, I prefer to choose my reading myself and would be reluctant to spend time reading something I thought I wouldn't be interested in. I tend to read a lot of non-fiction, too, and I wonder how much of that your group chooses? I guess, though, that these are more like reasons for joining a book club than objections to it.

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: thank you for commenting. I think it's challenging for any newcomer to join an established group, and yes, dynamics would change. Perhaps it is easier within a single-sex group, but I don't think that is always the case.
Your comment that you would be 'reluctant to spend time reading something you thought you wouldn't be interested in' is a large part of a group's benefit. I am glad to have my horizons stretched, sometimes quite uncomfortably. The group reading has included non-fiction, biography, poetry, and travel writing (oh yes, Bruce Chatwin included).
This doesn't answer the question of why men tend not to join book clubs. Our group may be different in its informality and geographical restriction, and I know that within the wider area there are many other groups, differently run, and some with a much stricter intellectual approach - but men still are thin on the ground.
Within our own group there have been occasions when some of our male neighbours have read the same book and have wanted their views represented, but have been 'too busy' to come to the meeting. Some men have also hovered, shared the biscuits, shared a few jokes but then disappeared to do something else.
I should add that this group was formed after the death of your uncle, and I think you know what he would have thought about it. However, he would have made the tea and coffee and joined in for a bit of a chat before going off to do something more important. (And he never read fiction, either).

Avus said...

Yes, it's odd that book clubs seem to be a feminine thing. My wife has run a couple and is now a member of a local group which meets at each member's house in turn. They are all welcome here but I guess I follow your late husband's path (in your last para, above)except that I do read a lot of fiction (mostly historical)

Relatively Retiring said...

Avus: thank you for commenting. I'm very interested in group dynamics and enjoy the challenges of working with different groups and watching the patterns of interaction. I see the same patterns in groups of both men and women, and in mixed groups, so I think it must be something specific to books which causes the great divide.
Would you actually like to join? If so, make them read historical fiction!

Avus said...

I don't think my taste in historical fiction would be theirs. I like David Cornwall(e.g. the Warlord trilogy), Mary Renault (e.g. ancient Greece), George Shipway (anything) and Henry Treece (e.g.The Golden Strangers) to give you some idea!
Their tastes seem to run to Mediaeval mysteries and Tudor romances.
I used to lecture and agree with you about group dynamics

Leslee said...

Oh, this sounds wonderful! Especially the neighborhood part. I only talk to my neighbors if we happen to be out battling a snowstorm together! And not long enough to feel much community.

Relatively Retiring said...

Leslee: I hadn't realised that the book club would prove to be so beneficial to all of us. Perhaps you could provide mulled wine after the snow-clearing? That might cement a few bonds and may even attract new members. Than you could ask if anyone likes reading.