Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Thoughts on Book Clubs

Today guest blogger Elaine Drennon Little, author of A Southern Place, shares her thoughts on Book Clubs.  A Southern Place is work of fiction about Mary Jane Hatcher, who everyone calls Mojo. As the story of the Mullinax family unfolds, Mojo discovers a family's legacy can be many things: a piece of earth, a familiar dwelling, a shared bond. She likes to think we all have a fresh start. A Southern Place is available as a print and e- book at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/Southern-Place-Elaine-Drennon-Little/dp/1937178390/?tag=wowwomenonwri-20

Thoughts on Book Clubs

When I hear the term “book club,” it sounds like a dream day in the life I was meant to have, but haven’t found yet. We meet in someone’s warm, cozy living room (not mine if it means cleaning it!) that smells of chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon potpourri. We’re all dressed in jeans and trendy tops with coordinated jewelry that makes us look a casual party in the Chico’s catalogue. None of us are overweight, tired, or filled with angry stories about our jobs, spouses, children, or life in general. We have no problems of our own, so we’ve gathered together to discuss the trials and tribulations of our grown-up imaginary friends, created by close associates who vary from Harper Lee and William Faulkner to John Grisham and Lee Smith. The wine flows freely and so do our tongues; we give equal time to the voices of wise Scout, simple Benjy, dreamy Ivy and a host of legal eagles. We read our favorite passages, we debate whose pain and suffering is greatest, we cry when they “kill our babies.” We relive bits and pieces of these lives we know as well as our own, and our love for one another grows stronger with each new book. Sounds wonderful, right?

I have never “belonged” to such a group, but my name has been on the list of several kinds of book clubs. In the 90s, there were several heated arguments between my husband and I over my “memberships” in the Book-of-the-Month club, the Doubleday Book Club, and some other book club that specialized in paperbacks. It seems that although I could always find “alternate” books to mark as my selection each month, the automatic picks looked good, too, and I too often hid them in the back of my closet instead of sending them back, causing some pretty astronomical bills by the time I got “caught.” There seem to be few books on Oprah’s Book Club list that I haven’t read, and I can honestly say I’ve never read anything with her endorsement that was less than impressive. I currently belong to a Goodreads off-shoot called “On the Southern Literary Trail.” I love reading the discussions and have added a few comments myself, yet I don’t seem to be “technologically savvy” enough to add the books I read or actually start a discussion on my own.

Though I still plan to start a book club, one day, hoping it will totally fulfill my dream described in the first paragraph, I like to believe that the “unofficial” book clubs I’ve continued through most of my life are probably better anyway. Never being an outdoorsy or sports enthusiast kind of kid, my first real friendships congealed over favorite books. A best of all weekends for my high school best friend and I involved a trip to the library, a bag of pretzels and a 2-liter soda. We’d gossip, then read, stopping to read to one another when a passage really intrigued us. (Our earliest knowledge of sex came not from other girls’ experiences but from Harold Robbins and Sidney Sheldon!)

Talking about books was always a comfortable way to make new friends in new places; to be honest, people who don’t like books probably won’t like me, so it’s a safe and easy way to find “my” people quickly. It’s also been an easy way to stay connect to those friends no matter where in the world our jobs and families might take us. With my friends in other states, usually one of our first questions is “what are you reading?” followed by the list of our own that we can’t wait to share. Books bring us together and keep us tied; characters we both love and hate create a kind of alternate universe of imaginary friends.

Today on Days of Our Lives, the ladies of Salem engaged in a book club meeting that started out much like the one I described earlier. When the homemade doughnuts Jennifer shared turned out to be laced with her son’s marijuana, these well-dressed, educated women aged 30 to 70 began to eat like pigs, giggle like tweens, and tap into humor perhaps never before gleaned from reading Lewis Carroll.

Looking much like a colorized version of when Andy arrested Aunt Bee and her church ladies from over-medicating themselves with snake-oil-elixir, this example of a ladies’ book club meeting looked to be pretty FUN as well.

The book club I dream of is a little duller by comparison, yet its effects would last far beyond when the “high” wore off. I love seeing the current trend of adding “book club discussion questions” at the end of recent novels. Whether for an established and maintained group, or just two acquaintances talking across the frozen food aisle, book discussions can draw people together, bonding both readers and their interests. Though I dream of the commitment of regular meetings, I never intend to give up the friends-without-borders and come-as-you-are groups of social media that welcome all to share and comment. I guess what I’m saying is that to me, a book club can be as organized (or unorganized!) as you want it to be—and I pretty much like them ALL…

Which kind of book club do YOU fancy?

About the Author:
Adopted at birth, Elaine lived her first twenty years on her parents’ agricultural farm in rural southern Georgia.  She was a public school music teacher for twenty-seven years, and continued to dabble with sideline interests in spite of her paid profession.  Playing in her first band at age fourteen, she seemed to almost always be involved in at least one band or another.  Elaine’s writing began in high school, publishing in local newspapers, then educational journals, then later in online fiction journals.  In 2008 she enrolled in the MFA program at Spalding University in Louisville, where upon graduation finished her second novel manuscript. Recently retiring after eleven years as a high school chorus and drama director, Elaine now lives in north Georgia with her husband, an ever-growing library of used books, and many adopted animals.

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