French philosopher René Descartes once said, “The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries.” Those who gather as part of a book club extend this discussion to the minds around them, gaining an even deeper understanding of the volume and, perhaps more importantly, an enriching sense of community with fellow lovers of literature. Our readers share their tales of gathering the book club and discovering themselves in the process.
I have always been a reader and often thought about joining a book club. However, for some reason, I never made the latter a priority. That all changed about four years ago when The Great Family Book Club was created.
Our children and grandchildren were all visiting during the holidays. When conversation turned to the books we were currently reading, I mentioned that I was really going to find a book club in the New Year. Someone suggested, “Why don’t we form our own?” And so it began! We scoured online opinions of books everyone should read in their lifetime to find twelve that would be entertaining to our wide range of interests and ages. Somehow, after much laughter and discussion, we settled on a list that was agreeable to all.
We don’t have regular meetings, but in our texts and calls we invariably ask how the reading is going. Throughout these last few years, we have become reacquainted with authors we read years ago, challenged by the scope of epic novels, and moved by words that have inspired us. As time has passed, we have become more sophisticated, as we now set forth rules to keep everyone in line and on target to finish the year’s dozen.
In fact, we now actually read thirteen books annually. The youngest relative, who is only ten years old, wanted some input, so she now chooses a chapter book that is passed around the group over the course of the year. Our three older grandchildren manage to complete many of the books, even though they have lots of other reading to do for school. My husband and I consider it such an incredible joy to be reading and discussing books with everyone, gaining insight as we compare thoughts and perspectives with other generations.
I look forward to the time each Christmas when we prepare the book club list. It’s amazing to think that at the end of 2022, we will have read forty-eight of the most important books in our culture. Even more amazing: We have done it as a family.
I worked in the legal department of a major financial company for more than two decades. A few years after I began working there, the diversity team started a book club. The chair would select approximately four stories each year addressing various issues such as race, religion, gender, and national origin, and every few years, a new chair would take over the reins.
I read many books throughout my tenure, but a few have stood out: Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, a novel about life during the early years of the German occupation in France; The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer, set in the aftermath of the Iranian revolution; and The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado, a memoir of her family’s exodus from Old Cairo to the US.
Previously, our group met in a conference room to discuss these books over lunch. Even after I retired, I continued my participation by calling in via a conference number that eventually everyone used as necessary. Participating in this book club benefited me in many ways: It introduced me to cultures that I knew little about, it allowed me to congregate in a relaxed setting with colleagues with whom I may not have typically worked, and it gave me the pleasure of reading some books I probably would not have otherwise chosen.
Hoboken, New Jersey
Two years ago, I approached some neighbors about the idea of forming a book club in which we would seek out stories featuring older adult characters. We were all approaching our fifties or sixties and wanted to read novels that would resonate more with our own experiences than the average best-selling contemporary fiction. We have been meeting once per month—often in outdoor settings—and messaging one another in between to discuss our selections. Our book club, which we call The Seasoned Readers, has helped to alleviate any feelings of isolation, and the texts often provide great inspiration for how to age gracefully.
I even took things one step further and started a blog called Ripe Reads, in which I review books by and about adults over the age of fifty. I think book clubs are a great way to learn and connect, and I’m grateful to have these wise and wonderful literary friends in my life!
Culver City, California
In an effort to keep members connected over the past two years, our church team thought to start an online book club. However, this wasn’t a typical book club with monthly meetings centered around a single book. Instead, it was something quite different in shape. Every other week, we share around a particular theme, each bringing a different book. The off weeks are for sharing our latest reads of any genre. One of our group’s founders was inspired to create this atypical format by one of her favorite novels, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, in which the characters share simply what books they have on hand.
These were just a few of the weekly invitations: Share a book that made you laugh; share a book that changed your mind about something; share books that feature Asian-American protagonists; share your favorite cookbooks; share books written by women. The list goes on.
In our meetings, members have tied the books in with the events of real life, expressing heartfelt thoughts about their most difficult experiences, about moments of joy and humor, and about the quiet faithfulness of our Creator. Our book club’s full name is Our Stories Through Books, for it is in the tales on these pages that we learn we are not alone in our struggles and joys; and it is in sharing the stories with others that we learn it again in the presence of dear friends.
In 2018, I moved back to Minnesota after living elsewhere for almost fifteen years. I found myself feeling very lonely, as I had few connections in this city of my birth other than my adult offspring. I decided to start a monthly book club and invite my dearest sorority sisters with whom I had lost contact over the years. I picked a few books and sent out invitations. The summons was for dinner at my house, which gave me the opportunity to revive my cooking and entertaining skills and offered the group a chance to reconnect. The ladies cautiously joined, and our monthly book club began.
To my delight, this pastime reignited all our friendships! There is nothing like sitting around a table with women who have known one another since their teenage years, before husbands, children, graduate school, and careers. Each month’s gathering was so much more than merely discussing the stories on page.
I have since moved away, and the dinners now rotate between several different homes. Still, I make a point of attending as many of the gatherings as possible. It’s special to know that the strong reconnections that began four years ago live on today. The books we choose give purpose to the gatherings but, most notably, provide a backdrop to our discussions around the many facets of life itself.
To read more reader letters on this subject, see “In Books we Find Ourselves” in the September 2022 issue, available on newsstands and at victoriamag.com. If you’d like to see your own letter featured in our pages or on our website, submit your response to our latest Reader-to-Reader prompt on the “Calling All Readers” page of our website.