Carolyn Steele Agosta
Book Clubs! A meeting of the minds.
Updated: May 2, 2020
I belong to an awesome book club. And what’s really amazing is that the members actually READ the books!
The club meets at the local library, the Florence S. Shanklin branch library in Denver, NC. I first learned about the group thanks to my husband who saw an article in the local paper. I gotta say, that was a real break for me!
There are probably about two dozen women in the group, although at any one meeting, maybe only half the members show up. We’re mostly middle-aged and older women, and we all travel a lot (or did!), so we’re not always around to attend. But when we do, we do so with great enthusiasm!
I feel so fortunate to have found this group. The women in it are smart, opinionated, well-read (of course!), very vocal, and whole-hearted. Our discussions get very lively, and because we come from a wide variety of backgrounds, everyone brings their own personal viewpoint to the conversation. Being with these women gives me a great sense of optimism for myself, about being able to stay sharp as I get older.
And we read books that I would never have read on my own. That’s the second-best thing about this group (first-best is the women themselves). I get exposed to all kinds of things and, because I know a discussion will follow, I read more thoroughly. I put more effort into it than I might if I had just read for pleasure.
Because it’s good to get out of my usual routine. I tend to read fiction only, and mostly books that have been around for a while. Our group splits the annual list of books between fiction and non-fiction, and they prefer newer books. We do usually read one ‘classic’ per year. This past year, we read The Count of Monte Cristo, which is quite a challenge, as it’s a door-stopper of all door-stoppers, but everyone quite eagerly got into the discussion.
Our format is that every spring we select the books for the coming year. We meet nine times a year, at 10:00 on Thursday mornings, the third week of the month. We do have a moderator who starts things off, but with each book, a different reviewer leads the discussion – a role for which we volunteer – and someone also volunteers to bring refreshments. Since we have the meetings at the library, no alcohol is allowed. Probably a good thing!
The reviewer usually gives some background on the author, and relevant information about the book, and then has discussion questions. We never have any trouble getting people to speak up! The meeting lasts about 90 minutes. I love it.
Some of the titles we’ve read include: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes, Fredrik Backman’s My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and A Man Called Ove, Educated by Tara Westover, Ashoan’s Rug by Carrie Jane Knowles, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doer, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance, Nomadland by Jessica Bruder, The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante, 1944 by Jay Winik, Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons, The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allente, Citizens of London by Lynne Olson, The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Cline, Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran, and recently, The Rent Collector by Camron Wright – although, unfortunately, we didn’t get to discuss it because of the quarantine.
They also read my book After the Wink, which was pretty exciting/terrifying for me. And that directly led to the book I’m currently writing – I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t anything in the works!
For about three years, I missed all the autumn/winter meetings because I was babysitting my newest grandchild. (Yes, three grandchildren in three years! What a blessing!) I could usually make it to the spring meetings because by then the grandchild in question had graduated from Grammy’s Daycare. Just in time for me to get a break before the next grandbaby came along.
My sisters had to listen to me enthuse about the book club so many times that eventually they demanded we start our own club during the summer months when my regular book club was in recess. So, the Sisters Book Club, with five members, met once a month on a Sunday afternoon, for a couple of years. We all have different tastes, so again, I was able to read books that I might not have selected otherwise. There was one book we all really hated – The Witch of Lime Street by David Jaher – and even that one provoked lots of animated conversation.
One book we did really all enjoy was Things You Find in Rock Pools by Gregg Dunnett. I think mainly because of the narrative voice of the adolescent boy who was the main character. Each summer, since we only read three books, we tried to choose one fiction, one non-fiction, and one with a movie tie-in. So we read The Miracle of Dunkirk by Walter Lord, Me Before You by JoJo Moyes, and a young adult book, The War with Grandpa, which had been made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro. We enjoyed the book, but the movie never did get released, due to the Hollywood writers' strike in 2018.
We did read some books we really enjoyed, including one titled So Terrible a Storm by Curt Brown, about the horrendous storm on Lake Superior in 1905, but it was also fun to have an excuse to get together with my sisters and sister-in-law for something a bit different. We’ve had these kinds of discussions before about movies and TV shows, but not in an organized fashion, and never about books, since we generally don’t share the same taste.
I do have to say, my sister Jacki Anderson often passes books to me that I enjoy and we discuss, so I can’t make the above kind of blanket statement and not get bopped for it. I am not as good about suggesting books to her. Guess I better do something about that….
Of course, Book Club this year has been upended. We will still vote on which books to cover – hopefully – next year. Meanwhile, if you have an awesome book club too, tell me about it in the comments or on Facebook. I love to hear about book club experiences!