Last September, Shane-Malcolm Billings, a new librarian at Winthrop’s Bailey Public Library, started a book group featuring contemporary fiction. Even though I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, I decided to join the group as I figured it would give me something more positive to focus on than breast cancer. I wasn’t sure how many people would join, but it didn’t matter to me whether the group was small or large. Either way, I would be paying close attention to the selected book and then discussing it with others, and this would be a welcome interlude from radiation and fatigue.
As it turned out, I was right about book group. It did give me something positive to focus on, and in addition it served as a sort of ballast, a way to steady myself during a turbulent time. I am an avid reader, and books provide many things for me—pleasure, illumination, information, inspiration, and comfort. (However, not surprisingly, no one book provides all these things.)
It also turned out that book group drew in quite a few readers—all women—and it’s a rare meeting when we don’t have at least 10 people. Often, there are more, and while I don’t have any hard numbers, it seems to me that there must be over 20 people who come at least some of the time, with a solid core who come most of the time.
There has been another bonus for me as well. Over the years, I had stopped reading fiction and had turned to nonfiction. This was not because I didn’t value fiction but rather because I had become more interested in topics covered in nonfiction. The book group’s emphasis on fiction has spurred me to vary my reading diet, so to speak, and as a result I have read, outside of book group, some very fine fiction, including Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand; Emily, Alone; Atonement; Other Voices, Other Rooms;and the Charlie Bone series.
Last night, we had a little party to celebrate our one-year anniversary of book group. A lot of members came—I would say there were at least 20 of us—and we had a potluck with some very tasty food. As part of our celebration, we all chose our favorite book from book group—mine was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese—and we discussed the difficult but compelling (at least for me) Great House by Nicole Krause.
The potluck was so much fun that I hope we do it again next September for our second-year anniversary. In the meantime, we’ll have more interesting books to read and discuss.
Thank you, Shane, for starting this group, and thank you to all the women who come and make this group so lively, stimulating, and fun. I often disagree with the various opinions, but I always find it fascinating that there can be such a divergence of opinions on the same book.
I’m looking forward to another year of book group.