When asked what their book groups are reading, friends often reply with a complaint. “I never like what this one person picks.” “I can’t get through the book.” “It’s too shallow to say much about.”
Then I’m grateful for my book group. It’s been going for 21 years, with four of us founding members and the other two added early on. Over the years our lunchtime group of coworkers lost members who left for other jobs, but our workplace base also contributes to our success. We don’t have to catch up before getting down to business, and a lunch break is a limited time.
The main reason we thrive, though, has to be the personalities. Everyone contributes; no one talks too much. In the rare instance someone hasn’t finished the book, he or she listens more than talks. None of us is argumentative, so we seldom have extended disagreements, but everyone makes insightful points.
We also were unwittingly wise about the guidelines we chose back in 1999:
PICKING THE NEXT BOOK: I’ve been in groups that brainstormed what to read next as a meeting wrapped up, and a couple of dominant people always got their preference. The friend who never likes so-and-so’s choice is in a group whose members take turns dictating the next read. Our group gives each person a chance to suggest but not impose. On your turn you propose a few books from which the group chooses. We read only novels, which is a preference, not a key to success. Because we have different tastes, suggestions have ranged over centuries, countries, and genres, from Candide to Sula, from Fahrenheit 451 to Right Ho, Jeeves. Often someone comments, “I wouldn’t have thought to read this, but I’m glad I did.” I have the distinction of having suggested the only book we all hated, a novel by a Middle Eastern author that I thought might be enlightening after 9/11.
AVAILABLE IN LIBRARIES: Unlike my friends’ groups, which usually read recently published books that members may have to buy in print or ebook form, our group requires that all suggested books be readily available at libraries. Not reading recent bestsellers, we usually can get books easily at a library without going on a waiting list.
NOT TOO LONG: We adhere to a 350-page limit except when we decide to take on a longer novel in more than one session.
SIX WEEKS TO READ: Instead of meeting monthly, as many groups do, we set the next meeting date at the end of a discussion, usually giving ourselves six weeks to finish. Members with jobs say they are grateful for the longer timeframe.
ROLE OF THE SUGGESTER: The person who suggested the book prepares an introduction to the author for the start of the discussion. Before the coronavirus, when we met in person in the office, he or she also coordinated a carryout lunch. Some groups like themed meals corresponding to the book, but we prefer minimal fussing over food, keeping our focus on the novel.
I’ve remained in the group since retiring, and we have a second retiree now. Maybe we’ll keep going into everyone else’s retirement. We’re on our 166th novel, as documented in a list kept by Roseann, our unofficial secretary. If anyone would like the reading list, email me at email@example.com.
VOTE — AND DO MORE IF YOU CAN
In February 2018, wanting to take some action against Donald Trump, I began ending every post with anti-Trump quotation from the previous week’s news. Last week’s was the 129th.
Since Illinois will start sending out vote-by-mail ballots on Thursday, I was going to assemble my favorites quotations into an indisputable condemnation of the scoundrel. But then it seemed a lot of work for little payoff: people who read my blog likely aren’t Trumpers.
So instead, I’m adding an exhortation. Anti-Trumpers, please urge everyone you know to vote. The Senate, as well as the White House, is in play. The frenzy over Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement shows how important this election is. If you’re able to do more than vote, see the websites of the Biden campaign and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee or Let’s Swing the Senate.
ANTI-TRUMP COMMENTS: 130TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“Mr. President, this is low. Even for you. No, I didn’t write Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dying wish to a nation she served so well, and spent her whole life making a more perfect union. But I am going to fight like hell to make it come true. No confirmation before inauguration.”
— Rep. Adam Schiff, one of the Democrats who Trump suggested may have written RBG’s wish that she not be replaced until there is a new president