April 3, 2010

Bookclub Blues

Today I have started searching for a new and improved book discussion group.   I realize that this may be an unrealistic goal for the mom of two tiny children who hasn't the time to brush her hair on days that end in Y.   The bookclub that I have belonged to for eight years has begun to dissolve.  When I first joined it was led by our wonderful school librarian.  I started attending the monthly meetings as a way to get to know my coworkers.  We would discuss the current selection for an hour after school and then meet at a restaurant for an early dinner.

The middle school faculty group was my first experience with bookclubs.  I discovered many titles that I would never have glanced at twice on my own.  I also discovered that some of my coworkers were fascinating people with much to teach me.  I still remember the memoir we discussed at the first meeting I attended.  The Color of Water:  A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride.   Another title that I would have never picked up on my own but could not put down during the month was She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb.  Before then, I really disliked books whose protagonist was the opposite gender of the author.  I mean, how can they possible know what it's like?  Well, Mr. Lamb, I stand corrected.  Yet another way bookclub opened my mind and broadened my horizons.
Our fabulous librarian retired two years after I joined.  The bookclub continued with some great reads and good food.  Within a year or two, I felt confident enough to  recommended my first title to the group.  I had come across The Center of Everything by Laura Moriarty as I browsed the audio books at my library one summer day.  I remember vividly how stunned I was at the realistic story that mirrored my childhood and adolesence.  The main character's family experience was so shockingly close to my own that I had to pull my car over to the side of the road while I listened to some portions of the novel.  Somehow this author had incredible insight to my own coming of age story.

Many members seemed to enjoy this novel and the books we chose that year.  New teachers joined the staff and our book group.  We continued happily discussing books.  For a while.  Then attendance began to drop and selections became watered down and/or a source of contention.  Then I had a baby.  Then I had another one.  Last spring while on maternity leave, I actually read the month's historical fiction pick.   When I called to find out where we were going to meet to discuss the book, I was told that person in charge of bookclub had abdicated and the group was no more.  I was quite upset because a) As the mom of a six week old and two year old, I really wanted to get out of the house, b) I had actually finished this book, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.  It was the first thing I read  in months that didn't have Thomas the Tank Engine as the protagonist.  So I volunteered to organize our meetings.  How hard could it be?
Flashforward to today when the little bookclub that limped through 2009 is no more.  We selected the our school year titles at a fun summer get-together and the first meeting of the year was well-attended.  I continuted to organize the discussions but could rarely attend due to childcare constraints.  Interest waned; factions formed.  Well, okay, factions/cliques always existed; it's just that no one tried to hide them this year.

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli was this month's selection.  It is the only other book I have recommended to the group.  I was excited when it was chosen.  I looked forward to sharing the story with my colleagues and hearing their insights.  This is another book I first experienced on CD.  The narrator's eastern European accent carries the story along--it's easy to forget that this is fiction.  It is the story of a parentless young boy in the Warsaw ghetto.  What sets it apart from other Holocaust survival stories are the last few chapters.  I have read and enjoyed many books by Mr. Spinelli but nothing comes close to the eloquent prose and layered character development in Milkweed.  It is a haunting story, not because the protagonist doesn't survive, but because he does.  We are given a glimpse of the rest of his life.  And we understand Misha better than anyone else he encounters in the second half of the century.   If you can read the last chapters of Milkweed without tears, you are stronger than I am.  I've read it six times; it's impact has grown now that I have sons of my own.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to our bookclub discussion this month.  I arranged for a babysitter weeks in advance.  I sent reminder e-mails.  I loaned several copies of the book to our members.  Unfortunately, that afternoon I was notified that my son was running a fever.  I had to go home immediately after my last class.  I notified as many members as I could  that I would not be in attendance.  (Out of fifteen members, only five had RSVP'd anyway).  Before I left for home, I found several copies of the book in my office mailbox.  Obviously, no one was planning on discussing the book after school.  I doubt that anyone read it.   Maybe the faculty bookclub was ready to end months ago.  There's no sense in postponing the inevitable.  We are not the same school community we once were.  This is only one more way that fact is manifested.

So I am in search of a new discussion group.  Maybe it is best that I keep this activity separate from my work life.  It is the opportunity to learn about other resources for community life and meet new people.  I will make it a (small) priority, reading the books and arranging reliable childcare the meetings. It's so hard to put anything else on the calendar--much less something that only benefits me.  Still, I'm determined to join a literature discussion group this spring.  Hopefully it won't meet on a day ending in Y-- I'm already booked...


  1. I wish I could fit more in on those days that don't end in Y. There's not time on the days that do!
    That said, a friend of mine is interested in starting a book club. Let me talk to her again, and we'll regroup. :) I'm sorry your other group isn't together any longer.

  2. If you ever want to form an online book club let me know. I am in. Internet is always open too!

  3. Bummer, I put the books on my calendar this year but it's so hard for me to attend. You are always welcome to join our book club!!! We meet on the 3rd Thursday of every month at 6:30 around Woodfield somewhere for dinner. It's pretty flexible, if you can come, you can come, if you can't, you can't (although it's much more fun if you come!). We're reading Nefertiti by Michelle Moran this month...I have it here if you want it! LMK. Oh, you can come even if you don't finish the book, too! :)

    BTW, I loved Milkweed...although The Book Thief is my absolute favorite WWII historical fiction book...and I think The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society might be a close second. I read She's Come Undone I think in college and I remember totally not getting it, and we read The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb but there were too many crazy things going on in the plot for me. But it was an interesting story...I'm guessing if you like his writing style you might like this one.

  4. Lovely post. Since 2001 I have been involved in a national writing group that has twice yearly get-togethers and monthly on-line chats to discuss our latest literary fiction pick, and I have been missing participating ever since Sam was born. This year I just made a commitment to start doing the reading again even if I no longer have time to participate in the discussions, but I really, really miss it. This year I've read Alice Munro's new collection (Too Much Happiness) and Lorrie Moore's A Gate at The Stairs and Ron Carlson's The Signal and many more, but I do miss the community of getting together to chat about the work with other readers/writers. Everyone warned me when I became an SMC that many of my own hobbies would fall to the wayside, and I just hope it's temporary. Please tell me that when the youngest child is 2 or 3 I'll be able to have some of my old life back in small doses once again. :)

  5. Wow, I clicked on my favorite blog (Bubbynme) and what I saw first was the cover of a book by Walter Lamb--one of my favorites. In fact, I had just picked up She's Come Undone at a yard sale (25 cents). I seldom re-read books, but I thought I'd re-read this one. I have read two other novels by Lamb. I do recommend them.

  6. I wish I could have the time to read, I can't imagine when though. I seem to be too tired once the kids are sleeping. It leaves no time for pleasant reading nor other hobbies. So, i am taking my life one day at a time and enjoying what it gives me for now. I hope you find that group again. It is a pleasure to share your book reviews with other like-minded individuals.