I’ve mentioned being in a book club a few times over the past few years, but I figured it’s time to write a post about it. It is one of my favorite things, so I can’t believe it’s taken so me so long to talk about it here.
I know a lot of people are in book clubs. They read a book, they (may) talk about it, they drink wine, they eat snacks and go home. Our version is a little bit different. Our book club was originally started in 2002 as a park district program with the Pleasant Home in Oak Park. The group met in the Pleasant Home library and read books that would have been in the home’s library during the John Farson era (early turn of the century.) The first book was So Big by Edna Ferber. Apparently there were close to fifty people at the first meeting and the group gradually whittled down to a small group of core members who came every month with a handful of people coming and trying it out for a bit and not returning. There are still four original members from that very first meeting.
I joined the group in 2008. I was taking a drawing class at Pleasant Home and my teacher told me about the group. I had never been in a book club before, but the premise really interested me. I was a literature major in college and I missed reading “the classics”. Actually, at the time, I was hardly reading anything because I was so busy working. A book club would force me back into the reading habit and this book club in particular was reading great older titles, something I knew I’d enjoy.
My first book was A Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I read it diligently, loved it and went to the meeting. As I walked in the door, I noticed that everyone was older than me. I felt a little bit out of place for a quick second and then instantly at home. Anne took down my information to send me a book list, my (small) contribution to the discussion was met with interest, Peggy invited me to lunch with the group…it was welcoming and I remember going home thinking that I had found “my people”–a feeling only matched by meeting fellow letter writers.
Now, six years later, one thing I love most about our group is that we are multi-generational. Our ages span from twenty-ish to seventy-ish. (We’ve had three members pass away, most recently Anne, who was in her eighties.) Everyone brings such a different perspective to the book because of her age and background. Our discussions would be much different, I think, if we were all women in our thirties. The other thing I love is that the group formed organically. We are all friends/friendly now, but for the most part, it is a group of strangers who have the interest of old literature in common. And, while it is all women now, at a few points in the twelve year history of the group, there have been male members.
In February, we had our last meeting at Pleasant Home. They decided to stop hosting our group as a park district program. (The house is open very limited hours and apparently paying a staff member to be there to open the door for us was too much for the Home’s budget.) So, now we meet in our homes–our “pleasant homes”–and it’s quite nice. The hostess usually bakes a little something and serves coffee and tea. While meeting in the Pleasant Home library was always interesting, our own homes are much more comfortable.
One of our biggest challenges is finding solid books that are still in print or are still available in a large enough quantity for each of us to borrow a copy from the library system. A lot of times, a great title will come to our attention, but since it’s not widely available, we can’t read it. Right now, we are reading mostly from the 1930s and before, so obviously, even after twelve years, there is still a huge amount of literature yet to read. And, believe it or not, the group is reading Jane Austen for the first time in December!
I’m hoping to do another post about my favorite titles that we’ve read and of our top “scary reads” from past Octobers. In the meantime, I’d love to hear if you’re in a book club and what kinds of books you read!
P.S. That’s us pictured above (with the exception of Susan R and two new members) after one of our last meetings in the Pleasant Home library.