Read Drink Love


                                                              Young Girl Reading – Jean-Honore Fragonard

What do we ask of a good book? We ask to be entertained, to be transported, to be surprised, to learn something new.  We hope to catch a glimpse into the human condition, to make connections to other books and to our lives, to experience that unmistakable frisson brought on by words strung together in unexpectedly beautiful ways.

I went to book club a couple nights ago and, as always, I left feeling like my heart would simply flit off into the night for a happy little turn over the trees of our neighborhood.  It is a relatively young book club (about a year and a half old) and I am its newest member, having joined about six months after its inception.  When I started, I knew two of the women, but not very well.  One, I had met at the park and we bonded with our toes in the sand because she thought I was an Argentine Jew – she was half right.  The other, I met at Saint James’ preschool, and come to think of it, we also got to be friends with our toes in the sand.  In this small city, you are bound to run into people you like again and again, which gives you the chance to gently fan an acquaintance into a friendship.  Lucky for me, I kept bumping into these two women and found out about their book club.  And lucky for me, they invited me in.  

It is a true pleasure to read books along side this fabulous group of ladies – all mothers, incidentally.  We manage to pick amazing books by a process that is nothing short of pure and joyful chaos – people just throw out titles and somehow we collectively swoop them up or leave them aside.  Our choices emerge out of crescendos and decrescendos in yelling, cackling and book waving.  Sometimes someone attempts to read a review out loud, but never gets a chance to finish as the gavel is thrown swiftly and decisively by this group.  Despite outward appearances, we choose carefully (no one wants to read junk – life is too short); but not too carefully because reading is an adventure and sometimes you stumble upon the most breathtaking views when you don’t know where you’re going.  

I love this haphazard, caution-to-the wind approach: so far it has yielded great results – books that are incredibly varied, thematically and stylistically, but which all manage to satisfy, challenge and inspire us – books that sometimes make us fall in love – books that sometimes break our hearts – oftentimes, books that do both.  

The women in my book club approach reading with both open mindedness and high expectations.  This is a well read group, so if a book emits even the slightest whiff of schmaltziness or pandering, it’s dead meat.*  These women read with care and undisguised pleasure and bring strong powers of insight and analysis to our discussions (as well as wild gesticulations, melodramatic retellings, shrieking laughter and a sprinkling of profanity).  

Did I mention there is wine?

Our book club has journeyed to the moors of Victorian England, the jungles and shit lagoons of Vietnam, a mosquito-infested Christian reform school in the Dominican Republic, a craggy ailing farmstead in post-apartheid South Africa, a stifling and mannered living room in 1950’s suburban Connecticut, the disorienting beauty of present-day Tuscany, and up and down our ravaged country during the Civil War.  We have read non-fiction and fiction, collections of short stories and big juicy novels, classics and soon to be classics.  Just today one friend sent around an email listing 1000 books to read before you die.  I can imagine that the others, like me, hungrily scanned the list, happy to see so many familiar titles and wistful that there isn’t more TIME! 

Another thing I love:  We take turns holding the meetings in our homes, so somebody’s kids are always scampering about in their pajamas, watching with eyes as big as saucers as we pour drinks, catch up and settle in for a great talk.  What a lovely din to which to fall asleep. 

By necessity, our book club gatherings are efficient affairs with only a brief time alloted for chatting.  We’ve got a book to discuss, people!!!  Plus, we are usually on borrowed time, husbands and sitters having been wrangled into taking over for a couple blessed hours.  Someday, when we’re old ladies we will meet at four thirty for dinner and conversation.  Then we will creak and shuffle over to the comfy chairs with our large print editions tucked under our wrinkly arms and our wine glasses tippling over and begin . . .

*Eat, Pray, Love was one such casualty.  Though they read it before my time, I gather that it was reviled by all but one courageous member of the group.  This book manages to come up in conversation every third meeting or so, therefore I imagine it was worth the read – if only to serve as a collective punching bag.  The title of this entry is a sly wink to this book – which I will never, ever read – I promise.

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