I think a passion for reading was written in my DNA. My memories of childhood always include books: Amelia Bedelia, The Wind in the Willows, and Alice in Wonderland.
Every Christmas I crawled into my granddaddy’s lap to read Why the Chimes Rang and we cried together when the long-silent bells in the village chimed once again.
During the summers of my childhood, my schoolteacher grandmother assigned me book reports to write, while my country cousins headed to the creek to swim. There wasn’t a library in Georgetown, Mississippi, but the bookmobile rolled into town full of musty-smelling titles. I climbed on board and spent hours selecting my summer reading material.
One summer I tagged along with my grandmother to a meeting at the library in Crystal Springs, the big city just 15 miles down the road. There, women drank coffee out of beautiful china cups while discussing high-minded literature. I sat in their circle of folding chairs and pretended I was one of them, sharing a connection through books.
In 1999, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in years after both of us had moved back to our hometown. As we got reacquainted, she and I talked about a book both of us had wanted to read. We decided that night that we should take our mutual interest in books, and our desire to talk about them, and start a book club. Fifteen women showed up for a meeting where we discussed All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg, and the Second Sunday Book Club was born.
We laughed together over Patty Jane’s House of Curl and Crazy in Alabama and wept together over My Sister’s Keeper and When Crickets Cry. We fought both sides of social issues over Shot in the Heart and The Human Stain while always respecting our differences of opinion.
We traveled together to meet our favorite authors, like Frank McCourt who wrote Angela’s Ashes. We scouted out the locations of Ann Rice’s fact-based fiction, The Feast of All Saints, during a weekend trip to New Orleans.
We often invited guests—a local reporter who was featured in Confederacy of Silence, and a friend who suffered from bi-polar disorder to discuss An Unquiet Mind with us. We had a telephone interview with author Matthew Pearl of The Dante Club, and watched books-to-movies together—Like Water for Chocolate and A Room with a View.
Each month, our invitations were unique, like hand-delivered boxes of cake mix announcing The Poisonwood Bible. Always, the food and drink related to the theme of the book—sometimes elaborately like the Bellini cocktails we drank while discussing The Many Lives and Secret Sorrows of Josephine B, or casually like the Chinese takeout we shared while discussing Snow Flower and the Secret Fan.
When I moved from Mississippi to Arkansas in 2007, one of the hardest things for me was leaving that book club. By then, we had read 100 books together and been through deaths, births, marriages, divorces, and even hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It was more than a book club. It was a sisterhood.
In Mountain Home, I was blessed to immediately find like-minded souls in two book clubs—the Mountain Home Reading Society and the Whoa Day Book Club. Not only do these women share my passion for reading, they love and support one another, just like my Second Sunday Book Club friends.
Women need each other. For centuries we have gathered in groups to knit, quilt, scrapbook, play Bunco and bridge, volunteer, and even to support each other’s home parties, from Tupperware to jewelry. We share parts of ourselves through common interests. It seems that no matter where you fit in the melting pot of women in the group, we all have common bonds to share.
I have found it fulfilling to share my life story with women through the stories we read together in books. In talking about the books we read, we reveal our biases, doubts, convictions, and our personal tastes. It’s a tough thing, opening your heart to people and being willing to show up every month to do it all over again. But belonging to a book club has been one of my most gratifying experiences. Just like my grandmother did with her friends decades ago, I look forward to gathering with my friends every month as we celebrate the women we are through the thing that binds us together: books.
M! DJ 2013