Mr. Smith and I have lived in several different places during our many years of wedded bliss and each of these locations has its own unique charms and memories.
One of my cherished memories from our time in Indiana is of my book group, The Book Babes. A group of us founded it in 1995 and we met monthly to discuss our present read, drink wine, and chat. We took some trips together, reviewed books in the local newspaper, and had a brief stint as local celebrities appearing on the local public television discussing books we were reading. While no longer a member, I’m pleased as punch to report The Book Babes are still meeting and reading. And I bet they are still sipping a glass of wine or two.
After my first move to Pennsylvania is 2008, I searched for a book group and was not finding anything that was a good fit. Never one to give up, I decided to get creative. My sister Jeanne was living in Portugal at that time and we decided we would form a book group of our female family members and call it Zella’s Girls after our mother. We didn’t have a lot of takers, but my niece on the west coast gamely joined and the three of us would “meet” via Skype and talk about our current choice. Due to busy lives and different time zones we didn’t have longevity, but I’m thinking this is something to revisit at some point since my sister is back in the States and I seem to be retired.
When Mr. Smith and I moved to Ithaca, I attended the book club at our local library. One of the great things about this group was its diversity of age, from college students to aging, engaged matrons and everything in between. It was fascinating to hear the different perspectives of their varied life stages, and how it affected their opinions of the book’s contents, where they agreed and where they differed. Ithaca is also where the online book group with my sons was formed. We don’t get to meet in person and discuss over a bottle of wine, but it’s always a treat to receive an email with questions about the current read and to see what my boys are thinking.
And now I’m back in Pennsylvania. Not having found a book group yet, this month I decided to horn in long distance on my sister’s library sponsored book club in Michigan. Their current choice is The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle.
Sabrina and her best friend, Jessica, always celebrate their birthdays by going to dinner together. On Sabrina’s 30th birthday, she enters the restaurant to find not only Jessica, but the remaining people she had put on a list as the five people, dead or alive, that she would like to have dinner with. Sabrina made the list years ago to placate Jessica who was taking a course in spirituality and wanted Sabrina to go through some of the exercises with her.
The dinner list question has become one of my quintessential dinner party ice breakers. At home, our Monday night dinner was a party of two, but I still asked Mr. Smith who would be on his list. It took him no time to come up with his list:
- Jacques Cousteau
- Mahatma Gandhi
- Winston Churchill
- Pablo Picasso
- Ansel Adams
That would be quite the dinner party. I was flabbergasted at how quickly he came up with his list. A week later, I’m still struggling to compose mine. There would be my Aunt Ruby and Eleanor Roosevelt, but then I stall out. I think of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Jane Addams, Nora Ephron, Sylvia Plath, and Elizabeth Warren – although she’s probably a bit busy right now. I noted Mr. Smith’s list was all male and mine was all female. I wonder what that says about us.
Despite still struggling to come up with my list, I’m glad I read this book. It’s a bittersweet read that has humor and charm. And even though it’s a fantasy, it often felt real. Sabrina may have wanted life to be a magical fairytale, like all of us she had to live in reality.
But where did book groups come from? One of the earliest was a group formed by Anne Hutchinson in 1634 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. A Puritan spiritual advisor and religious reformer from England, Anne was banished from Boston in 1637 for her religious and feminist beliefs, causing her to flee to the Rhode Island Colony. I guess that whole premise of America being based on freedom of religion didn’t work so well for Anne who was put on trial for heresy and sedition. And I must pay homage to the French salons which date back to the 1600s. Ideas about books, art, music and philosophy were shared. In a world dominated by men, this was one place where women ruled and their influence on life outside the confines of the salon were immense.
When searching for the origins of book clubs, I came across this interesting article, The Evolution of American Book Clubs, A Timeline. Although they don’t mention The Book Babes as trailblazers in this list – it was founded a year before Oprah started her book club – I found it to be an interesting read. Maybe one I’ll share at my dinner party, if I can ever figure out which five people to invite. Who would you invite to yours?
C’est la vie.