I have a confession to make. A book lover’s confession. The kind of secret that could get me thrown out on my ass in certain bibliophilic circles around the city. I can’t stand William Faulkner, and before last May I had never attended even one book club gathering. That’s two confessions. Let’s stick with the second and just let the first one exist. (Although, I have to say here that Faulkner is the inspiration behind one of New Orleans’ best annual literary festivals.)
Last May I started working at Garden District Book Shop, one of the oldest and quirkiest independent book stores in New Orleans. (You just try and figure out how we organize our shelves. There’s logic to it, I swear!) An absolutely wonderful woman named Deb MacDonald had run the book store’s monthly book club for the last fifteen years, and due to unavoidable circumstances, she could no longer. She asked me to take over. If you were ever lucky enough to have met Deb MacDonald in her many capacities as book lover and reading promoter throughout New Orleans, you know there was no way I could tell her no.
I have to admit skepticism on my part at first. Many of these women had been attending this book group for the entirety of its fifteen-year existence. They’d formed friendships, deep attachments to one another, and certainly to Deb. I worried they wouldn’t accept me. I worried over what we would talk about. I’d attended dreadful lectures in the past where an overbearing audience member forced a writer to defend the moral choices of a character. Would we spend most of our time talking about our personal lives? What if they picked terrible books? And what was the role of a book club leader anyway?
What I encountered was a large group of incredibly intelligent and well read women who opened their circle of fold out chairs to me so that we could sit together and discuss our shared passion: books. In small and unrecognized ways, these women seem to me the backbone of the city. They are lawyers, artists, librarians, editors, teachers, and writers. Many have spent their lives in New Orleans, and many others have transplanted themselves and adopted this place as their own.
We’ve never unanimously agreed on a book, and I’d probably fall out of my chair in shock if we did. But we’ve consistently read incredible books I may have not picked up on my own. Whatever our opinions, we defend them in the circle with fire. During the best meetings, we change one another’s minds, broaden perspectives, shift ways of thinking. We also do a lot of laughing. And just a tad bit of drinking afterward. It is, after all, a book club. In New Orleans.
I’ve come to think that perhaps this book club wasn’t a great introduction to the world of book clubs. If my time with it ends, my expectations of my next book club are now so high they can’t be met. This book club has offered me a community unlike any other. While it is similar to the MFA program I’ve attended in terms of a deep love for writing, the book group allows for a unique dynamic of such disparate individuals to come together and share a reading experience. There is a beauty in this that I didn’t expect.
I know throughout I’ve kept saying women. We just haven’t had any men in our book group yet, but we would certainly welcome them. And we always welcome new members. You can join us every second Wednesday of the month at 6:00 inside The Rink at the corner of Washington and Prytania. We always like seeing fresh faces. Or, there are other book clubs you could check out around town. You could also always start your own. I highly recommend it. A book club engenders deep friendships where there is always something interesting to talk about.
Do you all belong to book groups? Have they been good experiences?