My First Book Club

You would think, given my lifelong love of books, that I would be the veteran of many a book club by now, but I’m not. Every time I watch The Jane Austin Book Club, I want to start one, but I never have enough bandwidth to start yet another new thing in my life. Then one day, a like-minded colleague came to work brimming about a book club she’d attended the night before.

It turned out to be a book club for women focused on non-fiction. I was hooked! They only meet quarterly and she gave me the name of the next selection, Just Like Us by Helen Thorpe and I promptly ordered it. It ended up taking me until yesterday to finish, partly due to being over-committed to other endeavors, and partly due to it being a very fascinating story told in a meticulously journalistic manner.

So, after work, I headed to a nearby city to attend the meeting. Upon arriving, I was greeted warmly and, donning my name tag, I gathered up some refreshments and found a seat. We were in a conference room of a bank. The room was filled with about 30 professional women of mostly my own age or older. There was one woman in her thirties, and one who looked like late teens or early twenties (who turned out to be the daughter of a founding member).

Also in attendance were three immigration lawyers and a non-citizen law clerk. These four were invited to the discussion to bring some much needed expertise to the topic of the book. The book follows four Mexican American girls in Denver from high school through college, two of them undocumented. The events unfold against a backdrop of hot debate on immigration reform prompted, in part, by the murder of a local police officer by an undocumented Mexican man.

Now, I’m not sure how a typical book club goes, but this meeting ended up as mostly a Q&A of the experts about all sorts of immigration issues, some drawn from the book, but many not. Here in Detroit, we have similar issues. I’ve been drawn, especially, to the plight of children, whether documented or not. I once had the privilege of hearing a first-hand account by a girl, documented, whose family was deported when she was seventeen and how and why she forced her family to leave her behind.

Meanwhile, my colleague was running late and arrived minutes after the bank guard locked up and went home. She did text me, but in the heat of the discussion I didn’t hear the soft tone alerting me to a text. We connected the next day and I filled her in on the event. Just about everyone there knew her personally, she’s that kind of person, a maven, bringing diverse people together who have a common bond.

I’m already excited to attend the next meeting, which won’t be until October. We voted for our next book and it is Give and Take by Adam Grant. Meeting quarterly with a new group of women may not meet my current needs to meet just these sort of women, but meet them I will and I hope some friendships ensue for the next phase of my life.

Find the Joy in the Journey…find it in every facet of your life!

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Every Day I Read Is A Good Day

I spent much of my childhood with my head buried in a book. Books have always been a part of my life and a part of my self-development, self-awareness, and personal growth. I was a late reader, but I made up for that fast. I read everything in our house, some of which was a bit advanced for me thematically, but no harm…I read much of the same things later and got a richer experience from it for my troubles.

You’d think that with my love of reading and writing I would have majored in English in college, but two things steered me in a different direction. One was not getting into AP English…my English teacher senior year confessed to me that the only reason I didn’t get in was because I was too quiet and they didn’t think I’d add to the discussion (I was anything but shy in her class…prompting the revelation). All along, I thought that my essay just wasn’t good enough…a shock to my ego. The other reason was because I was dead bored in high school. I wanted a challenge, so I decided to study chemical engineering to spice things up.

I had little time to read for pleasure in college, but I made up for it on breaks. I went straight into grad school from college and worked during the school year and over the summer, digging deeply into my reading time. After graduation, however, I had a maddening eleven months of “unemployment”, meaning, I couldn’t find a job. I read and read and read. I picked up classics like Jane Eyre and I read everything by Isaac Asimov that I could get my hands on.

After landing a job, where I’ve been for the last 25 years, I was busy learning my profession. Then I started having kids and my reading time slowly slipped away. Over the years, I still read quite a bit, but my reading shifted more towards non-fiction. Every problem or challenge that I faced, I found a book (or five) on the topic to help me puzzle-through how to deal with it.

In the last few years, however, I’ve really challenged myself to read more and to add back some fiction to my reading list. I solicited titles from friends and created a long list. I’ve read some popular fiction, lots of young adult literature (still influenced by having teenaged children), memoir  and science fiction (two of my favorite genres), and re-read old favorites.

I work with a woman who has a Masters in Library Science, and she recently attended a book club that is all women and they meet once a quarter and focus on non-fiction. I’m not clear as to how this book club functions, I think that rather than a small group it is more of a large gathering of women who have all recently read the same book. My friend invited me to the next meeting, so I’m reading the selected book and looking forward to the gathering.

I’ve often thought of starting a book club,  but I can’t do everything. Joining my friend at her event is a nice way to connect with like-minded people without having to start my own club. That works for me. One thing I’ve re-learned, however, is that not only is reading fundamental, it is fundamental to my well-being.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the Joy in a good book!

Related Posts:

 Every Day I Run Is A Good Day

Every Day I Write Is A Good Day

Falling Into A Book

Years ago, when my son was 12, he asked me to read Ender’s Game. I never got around to it even though he brought it up now and then over the years. I knew I would enjoy it, as I have always loved science fiction and had turned him on to it with my vast collection of Isaac Asimov paperbacks. When I learned they’d made a movie out of Ender’s Game, I thought about reading it before seeing the movie. Still, I’ve been busy and never read it.

A few days ago, I idly picked it up and read the introduction, written by the author, Orson Scott Card. It was a long introduction and talked about the genesis of the story, something I find fascinating as an aspiring novelist. He also talked about how people reacted to the novel, which is widely acclaimed and is considered a classic of the genre. Some people, though, are very adamant that the book is flawed because “gifted children don’t think or talk like that”. That really piqued my interest. It made me want to read the book and get into the debate.Enders Game Cover

Having devoured the book in short order, I feel many things, including incredibly guilty for not reading it right away when my son asked me to.  In many ways, it is a window into his psyche and one that would have helped me to understand him better as he was growing up. Like Ender, he was rather isolated growing up, not by the machinations of adults, just by the social order of children when another child is too different from the norm.  

Gifted children are vastly different from each other, and they don’t all think and talk like Ender…but my son does. It would have been so helpful to me as a parent to have seen this part of him from his own perspective and not my own and the book would have given me that. It has given me that, just not when I needed it the most.

Even Ender’s siblings, who create powerful, intellectual personas on the “nets”, are an explanation of the references my son makes to being in various debates online. His intellectual life is his own, and he has found, through the internet, many peers with common interests. I suppose he would have done this in any event, but I suspect he has his own “secret” personas out on the nets and that the idea originally came from the book.

Aside from why I eventually read the book and what I learned about my son from it, I did really enjoy it and will surely read the rest of the series and will probably see the movie. I read so much non-fiction, that it’s fun to find a new fiction series to enjoy. I will also go back and pick up some of the other books he asked me to read over the years…and for that matter, read the books my younger daughter has recommended. She usually reads things I’ve already read, then reads them over and over again, but she’s starting to branch out now.

I’m blessed to have two children who love reading as much as I do, who understand what it means to fall into a book and not be able to stop reading until the last word.

Find the Joy in the Journey…and the joys of reading!

Fifty Shades Of Reading

I was getting a bit behind in my goal to read 50 books for pleasure by the time I turn 50…or 1 and 2/3 per month. So, now I’m getting close to the half-way mark and I’ve managed to catch-up. I have quite eclectic taste and I enjoy reading books recommended by a variety of family and friends. I find myself trending more towards non-fiction than fiction, so I was making an effort to read more fiction than non-fiction. Even so, 10 of the 25 books I read were non-fiction. I love memoir and biography, so no surprise that five or six fit that category:

The remaining reflect some of my other interests including self-help, social issues, businesses, and the inside scoop on the author of the Millennium Trilogy by Steig Larsson (which also fits in the memoir/biography category).

The fiction books I read run the gammut from classics by Charles Dickens and Jane Austin, to short stories by Ray Bradbury, a novel or two by Steven King, some Young Adult Literature by way of The Hunger Games Trilogy, to a book by an author I got to hear speak, to a book I took off of the sharing shelf at our hotel in the Galapagos (the only English-language books I saw in all of Ecuador), and, well, the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. I wasn’t going to read Fifty Shades, but given that “everybody” seems to be reading it I couldn’t resist. At first I only bought the first book and it sat on my shelf for a while. Then, when I decided to read it and had a few days in which to read when I came home early from my vacation and my husband was off traveling for business, I went to the store to buy the other two volumes.

I was at Target getting some things and thought I’d grab the two books while I was there. Much to my surprise they were all out. They even had two areas where they displayed them and both were completely empty. I thought about going to Barnes & Noble, but for some reason I thought I’d rather have Target know I was reading them than B&N. By some slip of mind, I forgot some item or other at Target and had to return the next day. I decided to go to a different Target (I live within 4 miles of not one, not two, but three Target stores!). I got a small basket and picked up a couple of things, then headed to the book section. When I got there, there were exactly three copies of book two and two of book three. I put one of each in my basket and then another book caught my eye. As I looked through the table of contents I noticed someone stopping next to me briefly than moving away at top speed. Another woman had sped up, popped one each of the remaining books into her cart and was halfway to the other end of the store by the time I looked up! At this point, I started thinking how silly all this was, but it was to get sillier…

I was halfway through the second book when my older daughter came home from out of town where I’d sent her to study art while I was in Ecuador. She came in my room to tell me something and scoffed, “You’re not reading *that* are you?”. She proceeded to tell me that the books were the laughing stock of the younger generation. She told me that the buzz is all about whether Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson would play the main characters in the movie. Apparently they have been asked and roundly refuse to consider it. Well, from that point on, every scene I read in the book I pictured the Twilight characters in the place of the main characters. They fit so well, that I was cracking up for the rest of the series. Bella/Ana, pining away for a man she considers physically perfect and desireable. Edward/Christian warning her away, that he is no good for her. Too many parallels to list here. I think I needed that comic relief!

Just as I was nearing the end of the third book, my younger daughter came home from her own trip. Even she scoffed at my reading Fifty Shades…apparently she heard about them while traveling with older middle-schoolers on her trip. So, I am roundly scoffed at by my children, and I am sure I deserve it. Now that I’ve read them, I don’t even have anyone to talk to about how silly they were as no one else is fessing up to reading them!

All in all, I have had fun working my way through my reading list. I’ll keep reading whatever I want, as I’ve done all my life and I will…

Find the Joy in the Journey!

The Joy of Reading Favorite Childhood Books Again (and Again!)

 

My younger daughter has been racing through The Hunger Games this week because she firmly believes in reading the book before seeing the movie.  What really caught her by surprise, and which she revealed with wonder and a bit of humility, is that she likes it better than Harry Potter. This is quite the revelation given that she’s read the Harry Potter series about six times end-to-end. In between readings, she runs through the Percy Jackson series. I’ve tried to tempt her with other books to broaden her horizons, but up until now she has seen that as a betrayal of the time she devotes to Harry and Percy.

I was thinking about how I decided at the beginning of my 50 by 50 that I would read on a regular basis…something that I love to do but had given up due to my busy lifestyle. I was shaking my head at my daughter’s reading habits thinking that I wouldn’t re-read a book because that would take time from reading something new. Then I rolled my eyes at myself as I recalled that at her age, I re-read book series’ over and over again…just like she does. She’s gotten a bit stuck over the last four years re-reading only two book series’, but one weighs in at 4100 pages so it is a time-consuming process.

When I was a girl, there were two series, The Little House Books and The Chronicles of Narnia, that I liked to read over and over again, although I think I limited myself to once per year and I read a whole lot in between. I know that with The Little House Books, I identified myself with the author and subject of the books, Laura Ingalls. Having the same first name didn’t hurt. I fell headlong into the story feeling the injustice of Nelly’s taunting, the pain of a sister going blind, the joy of hearing Pa play the fiddle, and on and on. Each reading brought more depth to the story.

With The Chronicles of Narnia I found a magical place and an intriguing allegory of Christianity. I identified with the children who got to act like grown-ups in classic young-adult literary-style.  I went right along with them on their quests, fighting wars, conversing with talking animals, and overcoming evil. Reading these books ultimately led me to reading C. S. Lewis’ other works, of which The Screwtape Letters remains a favorite.

When my son was about four years old, I wanted to share some of my favorite books with him and I chose Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy to begin. I was swept away with the story, reading it for the first time as an adult. This had been my least favorite of the books, having nothing to do with Laura but filling in the childhood of the man she married. As I got to the last paragraph of the book, I choked up and tears filled my eyes. My son was beseeching me to read the last little bit and, wiping my eyes and taking a deep breath, I read how young Almanzo told his parents (having been asked, of course!) that he didn’t want to apprentice to the wagon maker, but wanted to be a farmer, just like his dad. Phew! Of course I re-read the whole series and later read it to my older daughter as well.

I will still encourage my daughter to broaden her literary horizons, but I finally understand her fascination with re-reading her favorites over and over again.

Find the Joy in the Journey and in a good book!

I’m Having A Dickens Of A Time Reading My Dickens

I’m having the dickens of a time reading my latest book, Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I’m reading it on an e-reader, so at first I didn’t realize that I wasn’t progressing through it very quickly. I thought I’d write a clever piece about Dickens and various expressions in the English language inspired by his writing…but in my first minute of research, I learned that dickens is not inspired by Dickens…it’s probably a smash-up including the concept of the devil…Shakespeare used it in his works, long before Charles Dickens was born.

I’m back to my trouble finishing this book with nothing clever to write about it! If you’re familiar with Dickens, you know that he starts off with about a dozen story lines and several dozen characters with confusing and sometimes similar names. About halfway through the book, the story lines start to come together and you get an inkling of how it will all pull together. If, like me, however, you are reading sporadically, it becomes very challenging.

I’m a busy gal; although reading more is part of my 50 by 50, I’ve found it hard to find the time and also keep up with my new exercise and writing schedules. It’s not too hard to fit some shorter and/or easier works into this schedule, but Dickens is serious stuff. At one point, I looked online to see how “long” the book actually is. Well, it is arguably his longest book, perhaps tied with Dombey and Son…both stretching over 1,000 pages. No wonder I’m struggling to assimilate the complex story lines, gothic writing style, and sheer volume with a sporadic reading style.

I have a couple of strong motivations. For one, I always proclaim that my favorite novel is A Tale of Two Cities, and I re-read it to prove so to myself a few months ago. I concluded that I could not rule this out as my all time favorite book! Secondly, a dear friend recommended Bleak House and Black House for my 50 by 50 reading list. What a revelation! I love Dickens and in my late teens, I read absolutely everything Stephen King wrote (I had many sleepless nights as a result, but not as many as if I’d watched the movies made from his books!). I never knew about Black House, and finding out that King wrote a novel based on a Dickens novel has me very intrigued!

Of course, I must read Bleak House first and then Black House. Not to mention, that Dickens can be downloaded for free…being many, many years past copyright limits. So, finishing Bleak House is my current challenge. I turn to my e-reader and turn it on. Hmmm. I’m on chapter XLI…which if my Roman-numeral reading is up to speed, is Chapter 41. I’m 65% of the way through the book.

Another reason that Dickens intrigues me these days is his role in social change. His growing-up years included working for a pittance as a mere boy to support his parents and siblings who were being held in a debtors’ prison. His books were informed by his experiences and as the most famous British writer of his time, and arguably the greatest British writer of all time, he assuredly has impacted social welfare even into our own time.

As a child, I appreciated Dickens for his intriguing story lines and his vivid characters. As a young adult I appreciated Dickens for the clever way he wove so many disparate stories into one cohesive narrative. As an adult, I appreciate the impact he had on society by uncovering so many of the injustices of his time and presenting them to a large audience through his serialized novels and his careful collaboration with his illustrators.

Find the Joy in the Journey and take the time to reread some of your favorite books from years ago…you just may learn something new about yourself!

Jalna–Rediscovering A Youthful Passion

My daughters and I have been watching the first season of Fringe on DVD. While doing a bit of research on imdb.com about the actors, I noticed that Blair Brown (whom I was looking up since I thought her name was Bonnie…turns out she’s Bonnie Blair Brown) played a role in the 1972 Canadian mini-series, The Whiteoaks of Jalna. Wow…this is a blast from my past. The Jalna books were all written before I was born…indeed, Mazo de la Roche, the author, died in 1961 at the ripe old age of 82 having published the final installment in 1958. But, somewhere in my introverted, book-reading, book-buying youth, I discovered her series of 16 books. Now, I don’t recall if I read them all, but I do know that I searched high and low for copies of the books, mostly out of print, when I was a teen and read them avidly.

Jalna is a sweeping saga of a Canadian family, from pioneer days to mid-20th century…a one-hundred year odyssey of Canadian history. Do I remember it all? No, of course not, which is why I’m so intrigued to find a modern footprint of this saga. Apparently there was a 1935 film of the first of the 16 books, called Jalna. It was the basis of a television show in the United Kingdom in 1951, called Whiteoaks. In 1972, a Canadian mini-series titled The Whiteoaks of Jalna was televised…I think I may have seen it, but I can’t be sure. I have a vivid imagination and find books, oftentimes, more vivid in my memory than television and movies. In 1994, it was made into a French television mini-series, which I’m sure I didn’t see!

What I do remember about the series are the dogs. The Whiteoaks had a farm and they raised Newfoundland dogs. I grew up, with no dogs in our family, thinking that when I grew up I wanted to live on a big farm, riding horseback out in the fields, with a big family of enormous Newfoundland dogs at my heels. I also remember that the matriarch of the family, young, beautiful, and vivacious in the first book, became a bitter, mean old woman with a 70 year old parrot some 70 years into the century-long saga. I learned that as long as their owners are alive a parrot can live into its 80’s, but when their owner dies, they will likely die not long afterward.

Regardless that I remember only such odd things about the books, I recall the wonderful feeling of reading these books and the amazing feeling of conquest I felt when I unearthed another volume. I may very well have some of these volumes in my basement, but after three separate instances of burst pipes during the standoff in our renovation, I’m not sure what may have survived. So, I went down to the basement where I’ve shelved most of the survivors…and I found these two.

So, here I am struck with a conundrum…do I hunt down these books, all over again? Of course! I looked online and found 14 of them available as e-books and all but one available in book form. Not much of a conquest, but these days I’m glad to save the time. I also found that they were written out of sequence, but my linear mind wants to read them in story-order rather than written order! Do I count them as 16 of the 50 books I want to read for fun by the time I’m fifty? Heck no! I’ll count it as one. There are too many other things I want to read and I l-o-v-e book serials! When I was a child, I read The Little House Books and The Chronicles of Narnia over and over again. As an adult, I’ve come to read most books just once….and maybe that’s a shame.

Find the Joy in the Journey, and the fun in the (scavenger) hunt!

Favorite Books

Books and reading are integral to my life. Yet, I went years hardly reading a thing when my life got really hectic. Recently I’ve started reading more and it’s been a joy. As I’m building my list of 50 books to read by the time I’m fifty, I will read some old favorites, read books recommended by friends, and read books that I discover on my journey. I read a lot of non-fiction, including lots of memoir and biography. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in my youth, and in adulthood have read the popular young adult books along those lines to keep up with my kids and the culture around them.

Sometimes I’m asked what my favorite book is or what my favorite childhood book was. I always answer the same way (it’s nice to have a pat answer!), but it’s been so long since I read those books that I really have no idea if I’d still call them favorites. So, they will go on my list. These are A Tale of Two Cities and The Velvet Room. Now, of course, as a connoisseur of books, you’d think I already own these books and you’d be right. But, they are nowhere to be found. I had to box up all of my books when we were rehabbing our house. My husband put them all in the basement despite my pleas to put them in the attic. Twice while we were still in the house and once after we’d moved out, the pipes burst and ruined many of our belongings, including my beloved books. Even now, 7 years later I can’t bear to look at them even to sort out and dispose of the ones now covered in mold.

I now own a Kindle, and I’m delighted to discover that Dickens’ books are FREE! The Velvet Room, on the other hand is not available as an e-book. It is $13.90 new and the exact edition I had is available used for $19.99. I should really dig up my childhood books (the ones that are mold-free) and see what they are worth on Amazon!

Now, I know in general why I like Dickens…great writing, intricate plots with way too many threads that somehow all come together in a spectacular ending! And although I remember the basic premise of A Tale of Two Cities, I don’t remember the details nearly as well as those of Oliver Twist or Great Expectations. I loved it enough, though, that it’s the only book where I’ve memorized both the first and last lines! They are amazing. The first line could be written about our world today:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way…

And the last line is one of such stunning self-sacrifice and redemption:

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

And, so, I will re-read all the middle parts!

The Velvet Room, on the other hand, has left me with a deep feeling of comfort about reading and solitude. Again, I don’t recall much of the story, but I know that the room the young girl found was my every fantasy. In an old, abandoned mansion there was, miraculously, a completely intact room…a library! It was full of gleaming books and had amazing windows with stained glass, a super plush rug underfoot, and, most wonderful of all, a circular alcove that could be shut off to form a circle of velvet drapes around a cushion-filled window seat where one might sit for hours upon hours reading!

I remember as a college sophomore, asking my roommates what their favorite childhood book was, and at least two others also said, The Velvet Room. I remember that they described the book very differently from me, although I don’t recall what they said…I just know that I remembered only the specific parts that touched me as a young, introverted reader…but still it made me feel connected to them in a new way.

Find the Joy in the Journey!

What This is…And What This Isn’t

I grew up in an age when women were told they could “do it all” and that they should do so. I distinctly remember the old Enjoli perfume ad based on the classic Peggy Lee song, I’m A Woman which aired in the 70’s.

The Enjoli ad starts out,

I can put the wash on the line, feed the kids, get dressed, pass out the kisses and get to work by 5 to 9. ‘Cause I’m a Woman, Enjoli!

And continues,

I can bring home the Bacon! Enjoli. Fry it up in a Pan! Enjoli. And Never, Never, Never let you forget You’re a Man! ‘Cause I’m a Woman! Enjoli!

Wow, that’s heady stuff! And I’m not talking about the perfume. It is energizing and empowering…until you try to do it. Then it’s completely de-motivating and depressing. I soon learned that I’m not the kind of person who can, much less desires to, “do it all” all at once. I came up with my own ideas to balance my life and let each role have its moment.

Years later I read a little book that validated my feelings. It was written by Mary Catherine Bateson (not inconsequentially, the daughter of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead), called Composing a Life. As a cultural anthropologist herself, she wrote about creating your life like a beautiful and unique patchwork quilt. Reading it 10 years ago, with a newborn baby, 2 active school children, and a full-time job, I found much inspiration in her words. (And in researching her I just learned she has a new book out, Composing a Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom. This is definitely one for my list of 50 books to read!) She spoke in her book about “doing it all”, just not all at once.

So, this does beg the question, how can I attempt my 50 by 50 when I’m still so ensconced in raising a family and working full-time? It’s a very good question and one I’m still struggling to answer. Part of the answer is that my roles are starting to shift. I got very involved in non-profit work when I was 40 and have been on the boards of 2 non-profits since then.The first one I joined was a very big time commitment and, one particularly difficult year, was an almost constant pull on my time. I’m so pleased to have seen it through the worst of times and poised for its next phase of growth. I was term-limited this past January and part of my 50 by 50 is re-defining my role with the organization. In the end, though, it’s a large time commitment from which I’ve been released.

The other change is coming up…the transition of my son from high school student to collegian. As he takes on a more adult role in life I take on a less time-consuming role in his. No longer will I be doing his laundry, fixing his dinner, and picking up after him on a daily basis. I won’t have as active a role in his intellectual growth either (which you have to know this “college professor in the body of a 17 year old” to really appreciate!).

So, some of my time will be freed-up for my 50 by 50. I will still be the best mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, employee, board member, etc. that I can be. I may even have some specific items on my 50 by 50 that relate to those roles…but 50 by 50 is about me and my growth. It’s about picking up those half-finished quilt blocks of my self, that were set aside long ago. Setting them aside allowed me to become the person I am, with the ability to develop myself in all those roles. Now it is time to admire the finished squares, set aside a few that I’m not ready to finish, continue on with the center-piece squares, dust off some which have been neglected, and look for a few new patterns!

Find the Joy in the Journey!