Our Maples Book Club is not exactly what you might expect from a group of, um, shall we say, rather mature women sitting around a table talking about books. We do that, of course. We have great discussions. It’s just that during the discussions, we often take interesting little side trips.
Yesterday afternoon, for example, Sue arrived at our meeting carrying something in addition to her book. She held up a well-worn box bearing the label Sloan’s Liniment and carefully removed an ancient-looking bottle from the box. It had been her grandfather’s, she explained, as she passed it around the table for the group to inspect and sniff.
Later in our discussion, Sue said that she tries to find a nugget in each of our books, something meaningful she wants to remember. Her nugget from yesterday’s book was this quote: “Freedom is like Sloan’s Liniment, always promising more than it delivers.”
Before we return to the meeting, here is a little background. The Maples book club was organized as a project of our social committee. We first met in April 2011, when five of us — all of whom still are in the club — gathered to discuss The Art of Racing in the Rain. By the next month, our attendance had doubled; we have now grown to 15 members, with more expected. Besides its appeal to readers, the club has proven a good way for new neighbors to get acquainted with older residents.
So yesterday 13 of us gathered to discuss our novel for June, A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly. It is the story of a 16-year-old girl growing up in a poor farm family in 1906. While working at a resort hotel to earn money to pursue her dream of going to college, she stumbles upon a murder mystery.
There is, of course, much more to the story, and that was the basis of our discussion. Our leader, Sylvia, who is uniquely qualified as a retired librarian, brings questions to guide our talks. In addition to answering prepared questions, we spend time considering others’ opinions of the story, characters, author’s style, and more. We also like connecting the book to our real-life experiences. By the time we wind down at least an hour later, everyone usually has participated in a lively give and take.
People come up with really good questions. Yesterday Ann began one by saying, “This is probably a dumb question, but…” Several of us couldn’t let that pass and interrupted to remind her—sincerely—that there are no dumb questions. Then she finished her question. Why is the novel called A Northern Light? Several moments of thoughtful silence followed, showing just what a good question it was.
No one knew the answer. There were some tentative guesses, but nothing jumped out as the best explanation. So Sylvia grabbed her iPhone and asked Siri the question. Siri’s answer: Sorry, I cannot help you with that.
Yes, many of us incorporate technology into our meetings—thanks in part to the Wi-Fi provided by Wilcox Communities in our clubhouse. We have members who read the novels in ebook format. A few use iPads to research questions that come up during the meeting. Others do online research before coming.
After everyone is satisfied that the novel has been thoroughly discussed, we begin the task of choosing our next book. With 15 members, it is difficult to find something that everyone will probably like. Many of our books fall into the category of historical fiction with women as lead characters. But we have also read one or two mysteries, a nonfiction work, and a classic. The covers of a few of our favorite books appear below.
Yesterday, after considering and rejecting quite a few titles, we decided to read one that has been on our list for months—To Kill a Mockingbird. I have to admit, I suggested it and have been nudging the group toward it for selfish reasons. After teaching it to high school freshmen more times than I can remember, I look forward to seeing what our group will take away from the story. Their reward for humoring me will be the same I gave my students. I’ll show them the excellent film made from the book.
Will I reread a book that I have probably read 25 times? Yes. That’s the beauty of a classic. There is always something to rediscover, to reinterpret, or to notice for the first time. I can’t wait to find out what Sue will choose as her nugget.