Wednesday, October 24, 2007

These Days in an Open Book (Nanci Griffith)

Here I am, home another day (sigh) - I forgot just how disgusting strep throat can be... and I won't bore you with the gory details. Tonight is my book club night, Nancy's choice of Lucky You by Carl Hiassen, and I still don't feel well enough to leave the house, plus I'm also worried about infecting everyone else, even if I have been on the antibiotics since mid-day Monday - the additional day (and evening) of rest and recovery will help, and I'll drop a note to everyone explaining (and mourning) my absence...

We actually just celebrated the six-year-anniversary of our book club, which first met late-September 2001 - we began with six members (M was one of the founders... :-), two of whom (Nancy and I) are still active, the rest cycling off over the years due to various reasons. We've seen many wonderful new participants (friends of friends), come and go along the way (we currently stand at seven), and we've restructured the format a bit.

We all agreed to begin with The Red Tent, for symbolic (i.e. feminist) and political reasons - one of the recurring threads has the women retreating there during their menstrual cycles, as a time to nurture each other, with massage, conversation and companionship. It's historically known that communities of women spending lots of time together will have their periods simultaneously - in earlier days, this took place during the new moon... so we try to meet as close to that time of the month as well...

We also decided from the start to contribute food that fit thematically with the book we were currently discussing - September 2001 (only a few weeks after 9/11, interestingly enough) found us sharing culinary treats Middle Eastern in nature: olive dip, tabouli, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, grapes and oatmeal raisin cakes!

We began with the premise of novels by women authors and we would talk among ourselves and agree on the books we'd be reading (taking turns hosting the group at various members' homes) - as we went on, the fiction and female "rule" went by the wayside, and we were privy to a broader perspective (Nancy's excellent choice of Richard Clark's Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror among them). Sometimes our meeting would take place at a movie theater, to see the cinematic interpretation of something we'd recently read (Janet Fitch's White Oleander or Rebecca Wells' Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) - we'd then go to a local cafe to dish over coffee and scones.

We later segued to having the person who is hosting that month choose the book, which has remained the practice - I love this, as it has most certainly "forced" me to read things I wouldn't otherwise pick up on my own (science fiction primarily). At first, when it came my turn, I'd select books I knew I already loved and wanted to enthusiastically share (To Kill a Mockingbird, Practical Magic, A Prayer for Owen Meany) - after a while I realized I had entirely too many unread books on my nightstand and began to choose literature I'd heard wonderful things about but hadn't yet gotten around to (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Confederacy of Dunces and, just recently, Eat Pray Love), so we could discover them together.

We eat first (during which book discussion is forbidden), catching up on what the others have been doing for the last month (although some of us see each other more frequently) - after the plates are cleared, we go around the circle with each member saying whether or not they liked the book, and briefly describing why... and then the host gives the backstory of why she chose it. After that, it's no-holds-barred, as we bring up various questions, issues and passages to support our opinions - what's immensely amazing is that, with our collective wisdom, we learn so much more about the book, each other and ourselves. We then serve coffee and dessert - the conversation at this point is usually a "cooldown" of the book topic, straying into other areas as well.

Two books previously suggested by others have garnered a place in my Top Ten: Prodigal Summer by Babara Kingsolver and Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos - wish I'd kept a journal of *everything* we'd covered... but some others are: The Lovely Bones, Beach Music, The Secret Life of Bees, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Time Traveler's Wife, Cold Mountain, The Handmaid's Tale, 84 Charing Cross Road, The Bonesetter's Daughter, Siddhartha, The Color Purple, Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Kite Runner, Woman on the Edge of Time, Stranger in a Strange Land, Wonderland, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Good Mother, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, Wicked, Gift from the Sea, Seventh Heaven, Pull of the Moon, Six of One, Many Lives Many Masters, Wuthering Heights, The Art of Mending, Peter and the Starcatchers, The DaVinci Code, Until I Find You, How to Be Good, Naked in Death, Mandala, Saving Fish from Drowning... and so many others I can't recall. Books I'm secretly hoping someone chooses this year are Middlesex, The History of Love and The Golden Notebook (although I'll read them solo if necessary) - here's a link to a terrific website of options, plus accompanying discussion group questions...

I feel so blessed to have an extended family of women-booklover-friends, with whom I learn, laugh and cry on a monthly basis - Happy Reading!

SONG: These Days in an Open Book by Nanci Griffith

BOOK: So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson

POEM: Having Come This Far by James Broughton

I've been through what my through was to be

I did what I could and couldn't

I was never sure how I would get there

I nourished an ardor for thresholds

for stepping stones and for ladders

I discovered detour and ditch

I swam in the high tides of greed

I built sandcastles to house my dreams

I survived the sunburns of love

No longer do I hunt for targets

I've climbed all the summits I need to

and I've eaten my share of lotus

Now I give praise and thanks

for what could not be avoided

and for every foolhardy choice

I cherish my wounds and their cures

and the sweet enervations of bliss

My book is an open life

I wave goodbye to the absolutes

and send my regards to infinity

I'd rather be blithe than correct

Until something transcendent turns up

I splash in my poetry puddle

and try to keep God amused.

QUOTE(S): "The greatest gift is a passion for reading. It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites, it gives you the knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind. It is a moral illumination." ~ Elizabeth Hardwick

"The main effort of arranging your life should be to progressively reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain yourself so that you can have all the time you want for reading." ~ Norman Rush

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