This month’s “real-life” book club meet in Wellington’s Island Bay and have been together for over six years. They are an erudite group, including three librarians and a sociologist, not to mention two Marys. Erudition, of course, is not abnormal amongst the book clubs we’ve featured. In fact, it is par for the course.
“Are they all middle-class white women?” Rachel (or was it Penny?) asked me, about my other book club experiences.
“Yes,” I replied, a glass of Pinot in my hand. “But that’s okay. We can be so down on the middle class.” We exchanged the kind of knowing look appropriate for two middle-class white women attending a book club on a Friday night. It was a look of self-awareness, peppered with only a little shame. Or maybe I’m projecting? I am not even sure I count myself as middle class, although I have a middle-class education and middle-class aspirations.
The conversation paused and my mind circled the bowl of salted crisps on the nearby coffee table.
Let’s not even delve into the stereotypes about women readers that cling to popular perceptions as surely as lint clings to a well-worn pashmina or Bridget Jones clings to Darcy. I mentioned my hunt for the great male book club, and the sociologist in our midst alerted me to a PhD thesis on book clubs. Stay tuned, dear reader, if I can find this tome I will.
I was asked if I was in a book club, or ever had been, and I had to say no. The book clubs I have been attending lately on behalf of the Listener Book Club are my only experiences in the field. And I feel like I have been missing out. I’m lucky I am getting to bust in on these groups. Maybe that sounds trite or sentimental, but I do admire and even envy the friendships I see at these clubs.
The book club in Island Bay is based on Rachel’s mother’s book club, which has been meeting for 26 years. (If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.) And these clubs are really reading. I’m at a point in my life where I struggle to get through a book a month. That’s the terrible truth. I came away from this book club with a suite of new recommendations on my reading list (including The Bear Went Over The Mountain by William Kotzwinkle, the author who wrote ET. Who knew ET was a book?). The personal recommendation is so powerful. I guess, erm, because it’s more personal? If I took one thing away, it is that Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin is an absolute must.
The book club don’t usually read the same book. Instead each month they share their own reading experiences and all the books are passed on and put in a communal suitcase for others to borrow. They also have a very impressive battered Warwick 1E5 notebook, with lists of all the books borrowed and up for grabs.
There’s a little bit more about the club here.
In the podcast below, I discuss Moshin Hamid’s How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia with:
- Mary Newman
- Mary Hercus
- Penny Fitt
- Chris Rowam
- Kristine Keir
- Lesley Patterson
- Rachel Esson
For a change, the club got to hear one another’s thoughts on the same book, tackling topics such as debranding Pakistan, family, and the manipulation of the reader.
Hamid writes in How to Get Filthy Rich: “We are all refugees from our childhoods. And so we turn, among other things, to stories. To write a story, to read a story, is to be a refugee from the state of refugees.”
Is the book club the refugee of the reader? For me, right now, the answer is yes.