Book Slut, or Why I’m in Six Book Clubs by
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Prompted By Cliques and Clubs

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Most of my women friends are in a book club and some are even in two book clubs.  I’m in six.  I know that sounds a bit crazy,  but it really wasn’t my fault.  Here’s what happened.

As a kid I loved to read,  in high school I was a staff editor for the literary magazine,  I was an English major in college,  and went on to grad school in library science.  (See Library Lesson)

And so by the time  I became a librarian,  I was what my friend Paula calls a book slut.

In the 1970s my New York neighbor Jerilyn invited me to join her book club,  my first.   We picked books by consensus and took turns hosting the meeting and leading the discussion.

We were all young mothers then and scheduled our monthly book club meetings for 8:30 at night to give us time to feed our families and put the kids to bed.   (Altho we thought we were liberated women,  in hindsight I guess we weren’t liberated enough to assign those tasks to our spouses!)

But eventually we got smarter,  and met for dinner at a restaurant before heading to our host’s apartment for drinks,  dessert,  and book talk.   As the years passed women dropped in and out,  and sadly we lost some to illness and death,  but I’m happy to say that after 40 (gulp) years our club is still going strong,  and since Covid meets on Zoom.

In the 1990s I joined a second  book club,  one for teachers and librarians that met after classes in a neighboring high school in the district where I worked.   Renee,  a public librarian,  led it as part of an outreach program to the city schools.   We met for many years and then when several of us retired,  we decided to stay together and Renee offered to continue as our leader.   She and I became close friends,  and that club also still meets,  now on Zoom,   but sadly without Renee.   We lost her to cancer much too soon.  (See Comfort Food for Renee)

And then in 2007 my friend Judy called to say Doris Lessing,  a favorite author,  had just won the Nobel Prize for Literature,  only the 11th woman to win in the Prize’s 106 year history.   We decided to throw a celebratory tea party for our bookish friends,  and thus our  “literary tea for women authors”  and my third book club was born.

A few years later when Danny and I began spending weekends and summers in a Connecticut community,  I met many well-read,  congenial women.   Soon,  you guessed it,  we formed a book club,  my fourth.

My fifth book club is made up of four cousins who are scattered from coast to coast.   We don’t see each often and so we Zoom monthly to stay in touch and talk about books.  (See Retreat,  Still Life)

And this year,  amid the racial unrest in the country and our Covid struggles,  my friend Yaslyn invited me to join a social justice book club made up of a diverse group of women,  and so my sixth.

Over the years the books I’ve read and discussed,  and the wonderful women I’ve met and close friendships forged have been so enriching and rewarding,  I can’t imagine giving up a single one of my book clubs.

And so after a lifetime of book clubbing here are some titles I can recommend:

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf,  Time Will Darken It  by William Maxwell,  The Lover by Marguerite Duras,  A House for Mr Biswas by V S  Naipaul,  Stoner by John Williams,   Felicia’s Journey by William Trevor,   Charming Billy by Alice McDermott,  Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle,   A Time of Love and Darkness  by Amos Oz,   Beloved by Toni Morrison,   A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius  by Dave Eggers,  West With the Night by Beryl Markham,   Lonesome Dove  by Larry McMurtry,   Kric Krac  by Edwidge Dandicat,  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  by Maya Angelou,  The English Patient  by Michael Ondaatje,  The Book of Daniel  by E L Doctorow,  Life After Life by Kate Atkinson,  The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner,  Old Filth by Jane Gardam,  The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa,  Their Eyes Were Watching God  by Zora Neale Hurston,  Darkness Visible by William Styron,  Buddha  in the Attic by Julia Otsuka,  Shipping News by Annie Proulx,    Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson,  Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier,  Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion,   Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks,  84 Charing Cross Road  by Helene Hanff,  Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally,    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov,  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver,   Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  The Devil in the White City by Eric Larsen,  Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin,  We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates,   Dubin’s Lives by Bernard Malamud,  My Brilliant Friend  by Elena Ferrante,  Ties by Domenico Starnone,   Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz,   Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid,  Room by Emma Donoghue,   Mr Bridge and Mrs Bridge by Evan Connell,  The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien,  Happiness as Such by Natalia Ginzburg,  Passage to India by E M Forster,  Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham,  The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer,  The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker,   Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively,   and Peace Talks by Tim Finch.

I’ve loved all these books,  but if you’re headed for a desert island and you can take only one,  make it James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses,  and don’t let the hype scare you,  Joyce is not as hard to read as you think.   (See  My Love Affair with James Joyce)

And don’t worry,  you can trust me on this,  after all how many six-book-club book sluts do you know?

Dana Susan Lehrman

 

 

Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!
www.WorldThruBrownEyes.com

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Tags: Books, Book Clubs
Characterizations: well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Since you have written before about your love of reading and books, this somehow doesn’t surprise me, but this sounds like a LOT of reading. I trust that each group doesn’t meet WEEKLY to discuss a new book? On the other hand, it is a great way to meet like-minded women who become friends (or even far-flung relatives) and keep your minds alive. It all sounds lovely.

    It is true that using Zoom throughout the pandemic has created some opportunities to connect that we hadn’t thought of before. A sliver of a silver lining.

    How wonderful that some of your groups have gone on for such a long time; remarkable. These are friendships forged in the common bond of love of thoughts and ideas coming from the books you read. Marvelous.

    • You guessed it Betsy, only two meet monthly, the cousins group and Literary Tea meet quarterly, and the Connecticut and social justice group meet summertime June – Sept, altho now that we’ve all become used to Zoom we may meet year round.

      It is a lot of reading but I enjoy it, and I’ve learned that if I don’t like a book and don’t finish the world doesn’t end, also I’m not a big TV watcher and that gives me more hours in the day!

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Though I consider myself a book lover and avid reader, I am in awe of your book clubs, Dana. You explain your memberships all so logically and yet, cumulatively, it is amazing what you are doing. (Do you have time to do anything else?)

    And thank you for your list of truly eclectic books. I am sure all of us on Retro could spend a lifetime discussing them. In fact, maybe you need to set up a seventh book group of us Retro-ists.

    Incidentally, I am plowing through Middlemarch, having had it recently praised by a prominent English professor on a course I streamed as the greatest novel in the English language. I’m not so sure. Thoughts?

    • Thanx John, a Retro book club sounds great, what about it Suzy?

      Middlemarch was touted to me also as a very special book and also by a English prof friend! But I don’t remember loving it, so maybe should reread and/or suggest it to one of my book clubs!

      When do I find time to read so much? Well, you know we all make time for what we like and let the other stuff slide!

      • John Shutkin says:

        If you want to re-read Middlemarch, Dana, leave yourself a whole lot of time. Though I’m reading it on my Kindle, it is apparently around 1,000 print pages. (It was originally serialized.)

        Also, great title. Sluts have been unfairly maligned for far too long!

        • Thanx John, a girl’s gotta make an honest living!

          • Suzy says:

            I absolutely adored Middlemarch when I read it, although I can’t say I remember much, 50 years later. I was reading it on a European trip, and it was so huge, even in paperback, that I actually ripped out sections after I had finished them and threw them away!

          • I had a friend who told me she and her husband were reading the same paperback book – literally. He would read a chapter and tear it out to give to her as he continued to the next chapter!
            And once I went to tennis camp with a friend and by chance we both brought the same book we were reading – the wonderful God of Small Things. I remember lying in our beds at night both reading the same chapter and talking about it as we read – talk about a small book club!

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    So sorry for all of your losses of fellow book club members. As a fellow former English major and book lover, I celebrate you for being able to participate in so many clubs. I just have one that I joined after I retired. Thanks for the reading list. I have read and enjoyed some of these but am printing out your list for future choices. And I love the term “book slut.”

  4. Marian says:

    I admire your reading tenacity, Dana, and your list gives terrific reading for thought and enjoyment. I confess that I started Shipping News and Cold Mountain and couldn’t get through them. Not sure why. Sometimes a second try is worthwhile. Can’t wait to try some of the others on the list.

  5. Suzy says:

    Great story, Dana, and I love the oxymoronic term “book slut.” I have read many of the books on your list, but there are lots more awaiting me. I do have to say that I didn’t like Elena Ferrante, but I know lots of people love her, and devour all her books.

    • I loved Elena Ferrante’s visceral style which she sustains, but after starting the second book I felt I had gotten the point, and didn’t finish. But friends who read the entire quartet loved it. The author of TIES is Ferrante’s husband, Domenico Starnone, it’s short and surprising, I think you’ll like it!

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    It’s reassuring to hear that someone who adores books so much also has learned to put them aside—I find I have less tolerance the more I read. But loved the story and the long list of books, some of which I have read or at least recognize, and many of which are new suggestions. Books are such good connections to each other, and to the worlds they create. Still haven’t made it to Ulysses, but I know you are there to support any of us that need it when the time comes.

  7. I absolutely loved this entry, Dana. And your reading list is awesome, all the way from Mrs Dalloway to being marooned with James Joyce and Ulysses. And thanks for the encouragement. I have read War and Peace straight through but have never managed a straight run at Ulysses. You’ve inspired me!

  8. Dana…you’re an inspiration!

    Love your title…my granddaughter’s Instagram name is “Poetry Slut,” which I adore (especially in view of the fact that she’s a feminist and an English Lit major).

    We do make time for what’s important to us, and that’s what I remind myself when I start feeling guilty about the clutter (okay, mess) I have amassed while I’ve been “busy” reading, writing, or making art.

    So many great books on your gorgeous list…happy to see several of my favorite authors including Annie Proulx and Larry McMurtry. Also a few I’d like to reread. Thanks, Dee!

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