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...