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.