Reading with Friends

When a neighborhood acquaintance invited me to join a book group 20 years ago, I was skeptical. I was incredibly busy with my job and a new baby. Also, as a writer, I’m very picky about my reading list. I had zero interest in mixing books with gossip, wine and frivolous banter. Maybe it’s nerdy, but I consider myself a serious reader. With high standards and little time to spare, I was unsure whether this non-writer group of readers would be interested in the same kinds of books that my personal agenda would dictate.

Even so, I decided to give it a shot. Having relocated a few years earlier to suburban surroundings south of Boston, I hadn’t met anyone locally yet that I could call a true friend. I thought this group might give me an opportunity to connect and possibly even develop some friendships.

At our first meeting, we spent some time introducing ourselves and discussing the types of books we’d like to read. We instituted a few simple rules: no fancy food prep, no gossip sessions, no hard alcohol—ok, maybe a glass of wine—but, more likely, some cookies and a cup of tea to accompany our literature. We came up with a meeting schedule we thought would be realistic, and we committed to giving it a try. Pretty quickly over the next few meetings in the following months, our group dove into our reading and the discussions were lively. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed being pushed to read books beyond the ones I would typically choose for myself and then talking about them on a regular basis.

Most of our book choices were contemporary literary fiction, with an occasional classic or non-fiction work thrown into the mix. Part of the fun of the group was being introduced to unfamiliar titles and authors that become beloved, as well as exploring books out of my comfort zone. Five of my favorites chosen by this group were Sally Gunning’s Widow’s War, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, JR Moehringer’s Sutton, Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women and Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road.

In addition to reading a vast number of books together, the women in my group became close. We supported each other in crucial ways over the years, from bringing book-filled care baskets after surgeries to walking 60 miles as a team that raised more than $25,000 for breast cancer research in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day event a few years ago.

Over time, my book group began to drift apart. Although the pandemic dealt the final blow, I think the group may have fallen victim to a change in our lifestyles as our kids grew up. Nevertheless, I will be forever grateful that I accepted the invitation to join that original group. I’m proud that we read and discussed more than 100 books together, and I value the friendships I made in the process.

I highly recommend joining a book group for anyone who enjoys reading and discussion. A visit to your local library can provide you with plenty of book ideas and information on how to get started. Many libraries even sponsor groups and public discussion. If you are looking for more book ideas, an earlier post recommends several good beach reads if vacation is on your mind. Happy reading!

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