Back when Pile o’ Books was trundling its virtual suitcase through the glory of Canada, I promised to one day praise the golly-gosh fantabulousness of my book group. And as we hurtle past the tinsel-end of the year the time has come!
Book groups can conjure a loungeroom of soccer mums floating in sav blanc and complaining about their husbands, their barely cracked open copies of the chosen novel serving as coasters and foot rests as they use this legitimate excuse to have some time on their own as an opportunity to get stuff off their chest. And that’s fine. Good luck to them and I hope one day they get around to finishing Middlesex, because it’s a bloody great book. But I’m a book person. Perhaps even a Book Person. And I want to talk about books at book group; the book we’ve all read (at least some of), the other books I’m reading, the things I’ve never read, the authors others adore whom I’ve barely heard of. I want a free-wheeling discussion where hands are waggled around and people grip their neighbour’s arm in agreeance, where folk lean over their laps to counter a claim of brilliance or hilarity, where cheese and quince paste bobble off crackers during an exclaimed character assessment – ‘And what about when he…!’ Where people are so enthralled with the words on the page that they quote from their books, where others jot down the name of an author or title on a little notepad, so contagious is someone else’s passion for them.
Because I work in the book world I’m surrounded by the mechanics of book-making every day, I am limited in the books I can get all excited about, because I can only focus on so many as a part of my job. Often I know of a book because a colleague is having a challenging time with its production, or because the design department has made some pretty posters that have been hung in the stairwell. It can be difficult working in the world which envelops one of your passions. If you let it you can become worn down and jaded about the very thing which attracted you in the first place. This isn’t the case for me, I love the world I work in, but sometimes sitting down to read can take on the feeling of a chore, it can fly you back to your cubicle and that over-piled shelf with the slight bend in it, and those other books you should be doing something about. Having something like a book group with like-minded folk helps maintain my passion for reading and storytelling when the craft of bookmaking is weighing too heavily on my literary heart.
This outing’s book was A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore and once again, it was a book I probably would never have read if it wasn’t for book group. Other books which fit this category and I ended up loving include Fugitive Pieces and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I can’t say I love this most recent choice like I have loved others, but there was a lot about it that I liked and which I was impressed by – from a writing and storytelling point of view – and I’m glad I’ve read it and would like to read more of Ms Moore’s work.
Why is my book group so wonderful? I think it’s because of the enthusiastic, articulate, interesting people, who thoroughly enjoy discussing what they have read and what they thought about it; how the reading experience made them feel; what they learned and the directions in reading (and life) this one book has pointed them in. A fearless leader helps too, and the woman who organises our get-togethers is a star, and one of the most well-read people I know, and possibly the most articulate when it comes to discussing all things book. And it’s the word ‘discussion’ which is key I think. It’s a human requirement to be able to sit with one’s fellows and verbally explore the things that concern us, that have happened to us, that we plan for the future, what we have in common and what we don’t – it may be less about sabre-toothed tigers these days, and more about characterisation, comma usage and the pros and cons on Americans writing about September 11 (at least in our book group) but it’s still a bunch of folk meeting to discuss that which is relevant to them and which affects their beings.
I so look forward to book group and I always leave feeling happy and upright, intellectually stimulated, relaxed, and all gung-ho and in love with the written word. Storytelling makes the world go round. And being able to tell stories about the storytelling is just as fun.