Twenty one years ago, I started a book club. I started it because I had just moved to a new area, I was lonely, books have always been my comfort food, and I missed the club I had left behind.
Of the six women who gathered that day, three are still in the book club. We have been through marriages and divorces and remarriages and, now, children’s marriages and, yes, divorces; new babies and even grandbabies; chronic and curable diseases; members who moved away and came back, and then, sadly, moved away again; and more than 200 books.
Our rules have evolved over the years as has our membership. In the early days, my husband and I were living in a tiny little corporate apartment filled with boxes that contained our life’s possessions, so we held the first book club at a neighbor’s corporate apartment.
To this day, my friends tease me about that cold, sterile apartment. Fortunately, it was warmed by the laughter of women who share a love for reading and community.
It is amazing how the world has changed. When we started, we had a paper copy of our schedule and typed directions to everyone’s house. A change in date or venue was a big deal as we had to reach everyone by phone and few of us had cell phones. If a question arose about the length of a book or if it was available in paperback, someone needed to report back the following month.
Now, at book club, if a question comes up or if we need an idea for a book, we whip out our mobile devices and have all of the information at our fingertips. We schedule book club on our electronic calendars, and our rule about no hardbacks is significantly relaxed, at least partially because of e-readers.
We also all pull out our reading glasses, listen more closely to each other, and, I think, sweat the small stuff a lot less than we used to. We agreed to some basic rules at the beginning and they changed over time. Early rules were about the length of the book and the schedule for choosing it, later rules were about getting to know each other better. We agreed to each pick a favorite passage from the book and read it. That was our best rule, as it provided so many insights and much great discussion.
Here are the things I would like to tell my younger self about the life lessons, especially about being part of a community, from book club:
1. The most important thing is the community, don’t forget to pay attention to that.
2. This is your tribe; these are your people. Even those who do not feel like your people still have something to say and some value to offer you, trust in that.
3. Celebrate uniqueness and diversity and then don’t be surprised when people have different opinions and strongly held beliefs than you do.
4. Take care of each other.
5. Choose wisely as once someone is in, it's hard to ask them to leave.
6. Have rules, it’s a great way to build a sense of community – but then don’t fret too much about them or take them too seriously.
7. There are going to be some complete and total duds, in terms of books, in terms of members, and in terms of meetings. Let it all go.
8. Sometimes you need to take a break. It is fine to take some time away from the community and step back. Just do it without making it a big deal, then it's easy to re-join.
9. Life is short and goes quickly — you'll blink and it will be 20 years later — cherish all your moments.