Start A Book Club

Last year some of my best friends, women I’ve been friends with for over 20 years, and I started a book club. We all love to read, but as women who are married, working, and/or raising children, we found that we were not reading as much as we used to. Or we wanted to read but didn’t like taking chances on something we wouldn’t like. Years ago we had a book club. It had a few different people in it and It was short lived as we became busier with life, but we got to talking about it at my daughter’s first birthday party and decided to revive it.

Our book club works like this: We each take turns choosing a book, and that person also purchases copies of the book for everyone. This way, we can stay within our individual budgets. We meet once a month, typically on the last weekend of the month, and whomever chose the book hosts the gathering. We also purchase a gift for everyone that is either on theme for the book or the season, or has something to do with reading. For example, a Christmas ornament in December. Doing it this way allows us to choose any book we want a couple of times a year, and we don’t have to worry about the cost because we are choosing the books we purchase. We can decide on an expensive book, or a cheap one. This also introduces us to all types of different books that we might not normally have chosen ourselves.

And while reading is the central reason for a book club, it’s not exactly the real reason that we started it. We started it because we found that we weren’t spending much time together. Our book club meets once a month, every month. If, for some reason, we aren’t able to make it occasionally, that’s alright. If we didn’t have time to finish the book that month, that’s ok too. Because while we do want to read and encourage one another to read, the book club isn’t about books. It’s about self care.

Women are notorious for putting everything in the world above and before themselves. When we are sick, we still take care of our family. When things need to get done, we put completing those projects ahead of our own needs. We are nurturers, problem-solvers, and we are, if nothing else, dedicated. And I can tell you right now, our mental health takes a back seat almost every time. And it happens before you know it. Having this book club puts reading, something I adore, at the forefront of my thoughts. And so at night, instead of being on my phone before bed and researching things or checking my email, or getting caught up in some Twitter drama, I read a book. It’s far more relaxing, and I feel accomplished as well. I also just love getting lost in a story.

But beyond that, beyond reading or the books themselves, the point is that we make time for each other. We make it a priority. In this way, we remember how important it is to take care of ourselves, and that then remains in the forefront of our thoughts throughout the month. For example, about a month ago my life got pretty hectic. My son started school, both the boys started soccer, and our tenants who lived in our rental home vacated without warning, leaving a mess in their wake. During that time I did what I always do and put my focus on what needed to be done. I stopped working out (a venture I had begun only two weeks before), I stopped reading, and I almost skipped book club. But instead, I remembered that book club is the priority. And so, instead of spending a few more hours cleaning our rental property, I stepped out of the madness and spent time with my best friends. Making that the priority reminds me to make myself a priority.

Our book club is more than just a book club, and that’s what makes it special. I encourage you to start one with the people in your life who you love but don’t seem to make time to see. We started our club a little over a year ago, and in that time we’ve spent more time together as a group than we have in many, many years. And in doing so, we are not only making time for each other, but we are taking time for ourselves. We get one night a month to be together, take a break, eat great food, laugh, tell stories, vent our frustrations, share our dreams, and relax. And sometimes, we even take the time to actually discuss the book.

Here are our picks so far, if you’d like to know what we are reading. Note the incredible variety in the novels we’ve chosen. I’ve enjoyed them all and would recommend them as well!

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The Joy of Reading

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My favorite collection. From the 1800’s

I’ve always loved reading. I’m not sure why, though they do say that children who are read to have a great chance of becoming avid readers. I don’t remember much about my early childhood. My mother died when I was 5, and they say that tragedy can sometimes block memories. Perhaps that’s why I only have a few memories from that time. I do, however, remember being read to. I also come from a long line of readers. My dad and his mother, my grandma (when she was still alive) are adamant readers. I don’t know if my mom read, but my stepmom is an adamant reader as well.

I remember a dear family friend of ours, her name is Amy Carr, reading Bible stories to me. I remember her helping me try to understand my mother’s death. Helping me to be optimistic that she wasn’t truly gone forever. I remember someone, not sure who, reading the book Are You My Mother?, by P.D. Eastman, to me. And I remember being read several Golden Books and Sesame Street books. And my favorite Golden Book, Where Did The Baby Go? by Colleen T. Hayes.My favorites are still here, in my children’s library.

But most of all, I remember being read to by my cousins, Gretchen and Elizabeth. They would read me my favorite books, Haunted House by Jan Pienkowski and Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. These books were later purchased by me, to read to my children. Once my oldest could read, he read Shel Silverstein books until the pages literally fell out and I had to replace them.

As a young girl I still loved to read. My Aunt Toni would send me care packages, and with them, more books. Some of my favorite books came from her. Behind The Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassidy is probably my favorite book of all time, and it’s one that she sent to me. During that time, I also loved the Sweet Valley Twins book series. I can remember my parents taking me to the bookstore (I know I said my mother died, so not to confuse you, my dad did remarry when I was 10 lol) and letting me choose a book to buy. Sometimes we went to used bookstores, and sometimes we went to new ones. When we went to new ones I could get the next Sweet Valley Twins book. I can remember how excited I was. I’d go home and read the book in one sitting! I can remember my dad telling me to pick a longer book because I’d read them so quickly.

As a teenager, I kept reading. I moved on to teen books. I moved from the Sweet Valley Twins to the Sweet Valley High book series. I also read every book by Christopher Pike that I could get my hands on. And once I was old enough, my stepmom let me start reading her books. My favorites were by V.C. Andrews.

As an adult, I just kept reading. My library continued to grow. I read a lot of Stephen King. I love mystery and horror. I love Toni Morrison. I love Charles Dickens. I love reading. In general.

But over the years, as I focused on my career and then building my family, I stopped reading somewhere along the way. I just stopped having time. I would still occasionally buy a book, thinking I’d get to it eventually. But for years, I never did. Until recently.

My daughter’s first birthday party arrived, and all of our loved ones were there. Including several of my friends whom I don’t see regularly. We were talking and one of us said something about starting a book club, and the others remembered the book club we had started many, many years ago. I don’t think it lasted too long, maybe a few months. But it was a great idea. A book club. A reason to get together with my very best friends once a month. A reason to read again.

I wasn’t sure I’d have the time, but I committed – because I wanted to have the time. I get lost in books. It’s like a vacation for me. I love everything about reading. I really do. And it’s not just the stories that I love, it’s the books. I have zero interest in a Kindle. I want to feel the weight of the book. I want to smell the fresh paper. I want to view the cover of it every time I pick it up.

And so, the first month of our bookclub began, and I read that book in record time. I started making time for myself. Time to read. Time that, I may have used to clean out a closet, I instead sat down and read. Instead of rushing through a shower, I took a bath and spent 15 minutes reading. I started giving my kids playtime in their room for half an hour when the baby goes down for a nap. I sit right outside their room, and I read while they play.

I read the book so quickly that I felt like something was missing. So I got another book. And that’s the one I’m reading now. It’s a paperback, and when I opened it, it was like I’d stepped back in time. The smell of the book took me back to when I was 9 years old, coming home from the bookstore with a new book my parents had bought for me. Sitting down in my room, excited to read the story. The smell was the same. They don’t all smell the same, but this particular one smelled just like that.

And so, I read. I will continue to make this time for myself and to relax and to do something I love. I will continue to make reading a priority. Sometimes we let life get in the way. It’s not that we aren’t choosing ourselves, but we allow the importance of other things – our jobs, our spouses, our children, our duties and obligations – to take extreme precedence over ourselves. To make some time for yourself is not a bad thing. I am still struggling with that. Even now, as a grown woman who can make her own decisions, I feel guilty. Guilty reading when I could be cleaning. Doing laundry. Planning meals. But at the end of the day, I know that not making time for ourselves, not allowing ourselves to relax and enjoy something, is incredibly unhealthy.

So find something that you love to do. And then do it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t feel like choosing yourself occasionally is a bad thing. Making time for yourself is actually the best thing you can do for yourself, the people you love, and the world. Because someone who never does that isn’t healthy. And is too stressed. And can become short-tempered, have difficulty sleeping, and are unhappy. And if we do only get this one life, I think we should make it a good one.

My library, and some of my favorite collections.