Zoe and two of her best friends have started their own book club.
Saturday afternoon, the Bookmarks held their first meeting to discuss Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Having dreamed up this brilliant idea, my friends and I orchestrated things so that for Christmas gifts this year, the girls gave each other a copy of their first book, with an invitation to the meeting written inside the cover. Tucked inside, each one of the girls also found a beautiful blue and gold butterfly-embossed bookmark about cherishing friendship. I cannot tell you how much fun it was for us to hear those three chattering back and forth about how far they’d gotten in the book, how much they were enjoying it (“and can you believe the Herdman’s cat?!”), and how excited they were about their first meeting. We were excited for them, knowing that participating will teach them so much about delighting in and honoring differences, rejoicing in common ground, and being friends.
I’ve built so many beautiful friendships discussing books. I honestly feel like book clubs are divinely-made gifts, colorfully pasted together with uniquely-patterned personalities and sprinkled with laughter for extra panache. For years, I have laughed and cried with two very different book clubs, and I wouldn’t trade the memories or the friendships for anything.
Our church book club, The Persian Pickles, started 13 years ago as a co-ed group sitting around a table in the church building. We began with a few simple rules:
- Select a book that can be checked out from the library.
- Agree to disagree.
- and READ the book.
Of course, back then, we didn’t call ourselves The Persian Pickles. I think after the first month or two, one of our two male members decided he could do without the passionate, opinionated debates that rose out of thin air in the midst of discussing seemingly benign plots, not to mention the laughter that started at the beginning of our meetings and never quite died out. The other of our male members also dropped out, finally deciding that being the only man in the group was a bit daunting. He admitted that reading the books at the pace we read them felt more like a chore to him than fun. And,well, we’ve been a ladies’ book club ever since. And oh, do we have some history together.
I don’t remember exactly when we read Sandra Dallas’ wonderful book The Persian Pickle Club, but by then we’d shifted to gathering in our living rooms, squeezed onto couches and sitting with our legs curled under us on the floor. The book, which tells the story of a group of very different women who don’t always get along but absolutely always “have each others’ backs”—even in the most unimaginable circumstances— seemed to articulate exactly the love and respect and bond we share with each other. We’ve always been a big group of sisters, and we keep each others’ secrets. So, when we agreed that referring to our close group as “the book club” just didn’t quite seem to describe it, the name Persian Pickles flowed easily forth as both suggestion and accepted moniker. We even had t-shirts made up that say “Persian Pickles” on the front and “I did it” on the back. And if you read the book, you’ll get it.:)
Over the years, attendance among the Pickles has waxed and waned with life. Sometimes we have 20, sometimes 4. But the best times are the fullest, because every single member is like a piece of a big puzzle that doesn’t quite go together when someone’s missing, no matter how long life takes them away from us. It’s hard to believe so much friendship can be forged over the discussion of books, but the Pickles are close enough after all these years to be blunt about our opinions without recrimination and to allude to an inside joke with a few words that cause an eruption of laughter in the entire group. Once, one of our members with a love for a specific James Patterson book chose a different one she’d never read because of rule #1, and it turned out to be one of the author’s more extreme, and perverse, novels. She walked into the meeting with a hat pulled over her eyes, but in the course of discussing that uncomfortable book we laughed so hard that some of us had tears spilling down our cheeks. One of our ladies loves to pick classics and just smiles when several of our members groan over her choices. Once she offered us our pick between two choices for her selection and someone else (who is passionate about her romances), piped up and said, “I don’t like the sound of either one of those.” One of the Pickles almost always picks a nonfiction book that I would never have selected for myself in a million years, but every time, I tell her when we’ve finished that it was one of the best, most thought-provoking, even life-changing books I’ve read. That is perhaps my favorite thing about reading the books selected by my book clubs: So often, I’d never have picked up the book had it not been for my friends, but reading the selection with them and discussing it becomes more than just a dalliance in another world or a different train of thought. It becomes an experience, a memory, a bit of history. Sometimes our discussions even change my initial opinions about the books we read. I’ll go from being pretty sure I’d never recommend a book to deciding that maybe I should read it again with the discussion at my heels.
Oh. And the rules? They’re a bit different now than when we started, having grown and stretched with us until they’ve become more like good guidelines. They go something like this:
- Read the book. Hopefully it’s at the library, but if it’s not, well, you’ll figure it out.
- If you don’t read the book, bring chocolate with you to the meeting.
- Agree to disagree, and always be honest.
- We keep each others’ secrets. And what’s shared at the meeting, funny or not, stays in the vault.
- Everyone’s welcome, but no one’s a Pickle until they commit.:)
Now, the Book Chicks have no official rules that I’m aware of, but I wasn’t a charter member. The group began when one of the Chicks went out on a limb and printed up information sheets about a new book club, delivering them to every house on her street and one other. I didn’t get an information sheet, but one of my neighbors had already developed a friendship with the Chick living behind her, and by the time I found out about the group, my neighbor had already attended at least one meeting. A misdelivered package took me to her door, and she struck up a conversation with me and invited me to the book club. It took us only a short while to go from being an awkward group of strangers to a close group of friends, as the remaining few members trickled in and we solidified as a small club intending to stay that way. Once those friendships form, the group just must have its own name. As I said before, “the book club” just seems too inadequate to describe it. A few of us suggested names. I kept looking for something lofty and symbolic, and they didn’t know me well enough at the time to send back and ask me what pipe I was smoking. I’d suggest something and get cyber-silence. Finally, the founding chick called us Book Chicks in fun, not really intending it as a name, and it just stuck.
It’s a very different group than the Pickles, but no less significant to me. We’re a group of nine—seven of us are neighbors, one of us lives close enough to be a neighbor, and one used to be a neighbor and then moved a short distance away. We are very different women—some with full time jobs, some working at home, some sending kids to school, some homeschooling. We hail from several different parts of the country, we have different hobbies, and among us we espouse such widely differing philosophies about life that we’ve had our share of awkward sparks. Among us are artists (two painters—of very different styles, two writers), a human resources manager, teachers, a nurse. But there’s more that we share than that we don’t, really. We all value children and family as a top priority. We’re all moms, and wives, and sisters, and daughters, and friends. We all respect different. We celebrate it, even. We’re all pretty good cooks (I mean, when we go on a retreat—and we do every year—we eat like royalty.). 🙂 OH—And we all LOVE to read.:)
I love knowing that I have eight very close friends right in my neighborhood who would be here for me in a crisis. More than once we’ve showed up at each others’ houses in desperate moments, including and especially the ones that steal our breath away and leave us in shock. We take each others’ kids to school, drop off bread and chocolate during tough weeks, pause for coffee together on occasion, get mail and feed animals when a Chick is out of town, and when it snows, we’ve been known to just end up together somehow, passing each other hot chocolate and watching our kids fly down the hill on sleds before we come hurtling down after them. At Christmas time, our kids play secret Santa to each other for 3 weeks. We have a progressive dinner and gather with our spouses (who have also become friends because of our book club) and end it all by stealing odd presents from each other around a circle. I’ve thought more than once about all the memories and history we’ve built, and it all started discussing books.
So, I’m excited for Zoe. And I hope her book club will meet for years, and that they’ll grow through things discussing books together. I hope their book club will be one more experience that teaches them about true friendship, the way my book clubs have taught me.
Since the girls are already the closest of friends, I told them they were going to need a name right away. And I only suggested two rules, and only because they’re seven and just figuring out how to have a sustained discussion focused on one topic:
- Read the book.
- And…Discuss the book for at least half an hour.
For several weeks, I caught snippets of naming conversations. Flying between games and imaginary scenarios, they gleefully threw out The Bestfriends’ Book Club, The Best Book Club EVER, and The Three Friends Book Club. They’d smile and laugh and say, “YEA,” but none of these titles really stuck. Privately, one of my friends suggested that they should be named Blonde Ambition. Then about an hour before they met, Kevin and I were helping Zoe create a list of discussion questions for the meeting, and he half-joked, “You should call yourselves the Bookmarks.” Zoe loved it immediately. And I’ve never seen the three of them agree more readily about anything.
At first, they treated the questions like an assignment, thundering through the first eight in about three minutes.
“So, did you like the book?”
“Well, obviously, I liked it.”
“Ummm, what would you do if you had a cat like the Herdman’s?”
“I’d find another cat.”
“I’d put it in a drawer or something.”
“Okay, next question.”
I could see that at that pace, thirty minutes of discussion would be nearly impossible. Besides, a discussion by very nature is an informal debate, an exchange of ideas, a contemplative elaboration on a theme. But they’re only seven. So, for a few minutes, my friends and I sat down with our girls and lightly guided, showing them by example how to comment on each others’ comments and ask follow up questions and mine for deeper ideas. Then we grabbed our coffee and headed to the other room so that the Bookmarks could make their own way.
At the end of the day, they left excited and with a new list of books:
February: Polar Bears Past Bedtime a Magic Treehouse Book by Mary Pope Osborne
March: Happy Birthday, Bad Kitty by Nick Bruel
April: Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
and I finished chuckling over The Top Ten Things That Can Be Seen Only in a Book Club of 7 Year Olds:
10. The person leading the discussion is so excited about having that job that she can’t quite sit down during the discussion and holds her notebook in the air as though she’s a teacher.
9. Someone offers her opinion in answer to a question, and the discussion leader just shakes her head and says, “Unh uh,” and then turning to the other member asks, “What do you think?”
8. The snacks of choice (and I asked) are cheese doodles, mini cheesecake squares, and juice boxes.
7. No one thinks there should be anything difficult at all about being friends with Imogene Herdman.
6. Everyone thinks Gladys Herdman is a rock star, and if they could be any character in that book, they’d be her.
5. One of the questions mentions Fancy Nancy.
4. There is general agreement that a good plot continuation would be a new cat for the Herdman’s. And it’s name would be Sparkles.
3. When one of the members asks a question, the discussion leader stops and says (hand on hip), “No, you don’t understand. I’m supposed to be asking the questions.”
2. No one objects to the random question added on the bottom of the discussion leader’s paper by her dad (a question he had teased her about asking): Why is this book not about a Christmas Tree? But in fact, they treat it like it’s a thought-provoking issue.
1. One of the book club members discovers, in the middle of the discussion, that it’s fun to use her juice box to blow air up her nose. She smiles about this fact, when she thinks that none of the other people at the table are watching her.