Twenty-three years ago this week my mom and her friend Susan started a monthly book group that met in Mom’s living room. A local book store offered a seminar on “how to start a book club,” helping them with basics to get started and the rest, as they say, is history. Two original members have been a part of the group all twenty-three years and gather with the current members the first Tuesday of every month. Over the years, I looked forward to the meetings when I was in the US and could discuss books with them in person.
Doing the math, we have cancelled twice in twenty-three years (once for weather, and once for the death of my dad), and a couple of books were spread out over two months because of length (I’m looking at you unabridged Les Mis and Anna Karenina!) . . . at a book a month, “we” have read 275 books. What?!
If each book’s spine was an inch, that is roughly 23 feet of books or 7.01 meters of books or 4.18 Amys of books. That’s a lot of books. That is also the power of doing something small faithfully for the long haul.
Were it not for that book group, this Book Club would not exist. Our Book Club was born because I savored the little tastes of reading books in community and wanted a similar experience on the field. When Danielle, Patty, and I were brainstorming the components of Velvet Ashes and what we hoped Velvet Ashes’ rhythms would look like, without hesitation I said, “We need to have a book club! And I will gladly lead it because I know I am not the only one who wants to read and discuss books!!!!!” (I’m sure I waved my hands and used four verbal exclamation points. Though Britt-Marie would find this behavior uncivilized, I could not help myself.)
We started this Book Club because everything I tried on the field to find a place to discuss books failed. Following a teammate around her apartment as she cleaned while I summarized a book I read and must discuss right now and asked her what she thought about it based on my summary? Unsatisfactory. I joined two online book clubs. Both left me feeling like I was still reading alone and one fizzled out after a month. Unsatisfactory. Very Unsatisfactory. Are we at war? Is this how people behave? Britt-Marie, I feel ya!
Keep in mind, the idea of a virtual community like this was still foreign and untested. Imagine a world before weekly themes, Connection Groups, or our annual Retreat had become normal. I knew that a virtual book club had to function differently than an in-person one, namely because we cannot see each other. (Duh, I’m sorry to state something so obvious Britt-Marie; I can hear you exhaling with great patience.) From the beginning the tone of the Book Club posts have been different than the other posts. I picture you in my mind and then I type what I would say. I pretend we are talking and ignore that this is written and we are miles apart. We are here together, you and me and the others. Sarah and Rachel do the same.
I wanted this to be for all readers, not just fast readers. In my family, we have a range of reading speeds and because cultural messages are often “faster is better,” it’s tempting to think that faster readers are “better.” (Whatever a “better” reader is!) So, I was committed to consistent weekly posts. No matter if you did not have the time to read a book or were traveling or your internet was not working, you would know that we would still be here reading books when you were able to join. Over the years, what I have loved most about the weekly posts is that it provides time and space to notice and discuss themes. While I still wish we could meet in person, once-a-month-discussions also have limitations that I did not know about before we began reading together.
For our own celebration of history, I looked back at the post on November 18th, 2013 announcing our first book. Guess how many comments there were? Forty-one. We readers (and wannabe readers) found each other! Two weeks later when we started discussing our first book there were twenty-six comments. Since then we have read short stories, fiction, classics, nonfiction, a children’s book, and young adult novels. We have had author interviews and interactions and we have established annual reading rhythms. Two years ago we read A Man Called Ove in August and liked it so much we deemed August unofficial Fredrik Backman month. Last year we read My Grandmother Said to Tell You She’s Sorry.
Today, we begin our 53rd book: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman. What struck me in these first nine chapters is what a strong voice Britt-Marie has. She sounds like herself. Which is especially impressive given that this book is translated into English. A shout-out to great translation work!
I see parallels between Britt-Marie and many of us. Here she is, age 63, and life took a left turn she did not want it to take. She is having to navigate Post-Kent Territory and needs to find new guides since her main choice (Kent) is no longer an option. Between visas, health, schooling, organizational changes, finances, family needs, or a poor fit, we cross-cultural workers are familiar with life taking turns or moving a pace that leaves us feeling at a loss.
Every time Britt-Marie calls the woman at the employment agency asking for help, I chuckle. How often, out of desperation or a lack of options, have I asked for someone’s help who did not really want to help me? But out of graciousness have. On the flip side, I loved when Somebody (will we learn her name?) laughed when Britt-Marie said the coffee machine was “Hit by a flying stone.” Kent was the “funny one,” not Britt-Marie. I am curious what other areas of her life Britt-Marie will begin to see herself in a different light.
In Ove we had a cat, in Grandmother a dog, how fitting that clean Britt-Marie befriends a rat. I have tidbits of information to share about rats, but this is running long and I’m eager to read the next eight chapters.
Until next week friends,
Our reading schedule:
August 13: Chapters 10-18
August 20: Chapters 19-26
August 27: Chapters 27-38