Plain and Simple

Published in Book Lovers Magazine, April, 1998


Our book discussion group, established in February, 1995, lives up to its name: it’s plain and simple. We just wanted to enjoy books and book talk with no pretensions. Over our three years together, we have gained and lost members, formed some loosely followed rules, and evolved into a comfortable, supportive and productive group.

From the beginning, we voiced general agreement that there would be no undue pressure to perform as exemplar book critics, reviewers or analysts, only that we would enjoy each others company and opinions, literary and otherwise. We began simply with two, then three members and have now grown to six. We consider this a good number since that offers everyone a better chance to express their views and has produced more in depth discussions.

Whenever we lose a member, as a group, we discuss and decide whether to invite someone new in and who that would be. So far, we have easily come to consensus and our joint decisions have resulted in a cohesive and solid group.

With a mix of ages, professions and life circumstances, members range in age from the mid thirties to the mid fifties, include two nurses, one former attorney, now a bread shop owner, one physician, one social worker and one corporate trainer just returning to her career after being a stay at home mom for several years. Four members are married, one is engaged and one divorced; four are mothers, one with grown children, and three with school age children.

We meet at varying times and places, with flexibility being the key, due to everyone’s demanding work and home schedules. The next date, time and place is decided at the end of each meeting with everyone bringing their calendars along to be sure they will be free.

We tried not to have rules but after a time found that we were not focused enough, so did institute the bare minimum. Let’s call them guidelines. We chat for about fifteen minutes before starting the discussion and have decreed there will be no work talk, since four of the members work for the same organization.

Books are selected six months at a time with each member picking a book.   Guidelines include that the person suggesting the book will already have read it and thought it good for discussion. Also, the person suggesting the book gives a brief sketch of the author and has several questions ready to spark the discussion. We adopted an outline of discussion topics from Rachel W. Jacobsohn’s The Reading Group Handbook which has helped us lead a lively dialogue.

We have met for breakfast, lunch, dinner, in coffee shops, book store coffee shops, restaurants, a public beach house, one member’s back yard and each others homes. Food and drink usually are involved no matter where we meet, though a full meal is not the norm.

While we consider all types of books we have stayed away from current best sellers to avoid the expense of having to buy hard cover editions. We consider all types of reading and have sampled fiction, non-fiction, biography and self help books.

We’ve done some unusual things, such as, when reading a children’s book, member’s children were invited to join us. The discussion of Charlotte’s Web was definitely enhanced by the children’s unique perspective. For our December meeting, each member brought a children’s book to be donated to a community program.

It’s always a surprise which books prompt the most lively discussion. Invariably, the book we thought we didn’t really like produces fire and opinion we didn’t know we had. Also, it seems that as time goes on we are becoming more comfortable expressing individual opinions, no longer so afraid to hurt someone’s feelings by saying we did not like a book or did not agree with the author’s view. Instead, we are busy developing our own reading style and more ease in sharing opinions and ideas.

As time goes on, we are becoming more discerning readers and confidence is more apparent among those who joined saying their goal was merely to get into the habit of reading more.

All in all, the group has become a wonderful respite from the busy frenzy of life, a short few hours when we stop being someone’s wife, mother, sister, daughter, co-worker and just revel in the pleasures of being a reader. What a precious thing!

UPDATE: After moving out of the area in 2005 and moving back in 2013, imagine my pleasure when asked to rejoin this book group. As all groups evolve, so has this one. But most things remain the same. What a joy to reconnect!


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