On the prowl for new reading material last night, I dropped by a local church hall to hear Rebecca Miller (author, filmaker, wife of Daniel Day Lewis) read from her new novel “Jacob’s Folly.” Miller was articulate and the book seems intriguing, but as she spoke I was as distracted as her protagonist housefly. You see, I was playing hooky from my monthly book club.
Long before Oprah started her famous book club, I converted to communal reading. First in our grad school years with a number of other student wives and now, for the past 25 years, with a wide range of women who attend my local church congregation, I’ve been part of a monthly book club. The way our club works is that individual members choose books—usually something they’ve recently read and can recommend–and our fearless leader Ann draws up a schedule. Sometimes the books are classics; most often they are new literary fiction with a smattering of non-fiction to keep us all on our toes. We meet once a month in each other’s homes. Discussion ensues, dessert follows.
Writing about the origin and current state of book clubs for Slate magazine, author Nathan Heller says, “the modern domestic book group comes most directly from a push for women’s intellectual autonomy.”
Certainly, my book clubs have functioned as ways to stimulate my brain in fallow periods—early dead-end jobs, demanding baby and toddler-rearing years—but they also gave me some marvelous traveling companions as my children and I grew up. I don’t remember every book club book I’ve ever read, but I’ve loved the women who nudged me to explore new literary worlds.
So last night as I listened to Miller describe how her housefly makes it from 18th century Paris to modern-day Long Island, I made a decision. Even if I was late, I owed it to my fellow book clubbers to show up. As soon as Miller finished answering questions (yes, she sees some parallels between her actor husband’s immersion techniques and her own writing discipline), I sped down the hill and joined the book club ladies in time for one last discussion question concerning Bella Pollen’s “The Summer of the Bear.” I indulged in a piece of Cindy’s almond cake and thanked Sheri for taking me to Scotland’s Outer Hebrides with her book pick. And silently, I thanked the rest of these smart, funny women for doing more than helping me attain “intellectual autonomy” over the years. They’ve also led me to places I never would have gone on my own.