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It’s the second to last Tuesday of October and we have another great essay to help us celebrate National Reading Group Month. Today we welcome Susan Rebecca White, author of the fantastic debut novel, Bound South. Susan is busy working on her second novel, which is expected to be published next Spring. Today I’d like to share with you an essay she wrote that ran in ReadingGroupGuides.com earlier this year. Enjoy!
The first time I attended a book club was last summer, months before the publication of my debut novel, Bound South. One of the club members (who is a friend of my mom) had read a short story of mine that was published in Atlanta magazine. She asked if I might visit her club to discuss the story, which is about generational strains between a mother and her daughter. Of course I said yes.
When the day arrived I showed up at a stately brick house in Atlanta’s tony Buckhead neighborhood, where I was warmly greeted by a cadre of tastefully dressed women in Talbot’s sweater sets, blazers, and smart little silk scarves. They served chicken salad and iced tea and later, after we finished eating lunch, asked me about my writing.
I love the way that older southern women listen. They look straight at you while you talk, nodding along, leaning forward in their seats. As interested as they seemed to be in me, I was in all reality probably more interested in them. I just loved the fact that this particular club of ladies started meeting well over thirty years ago. Most of the current members are also the founding members, meaning that these same women have been getting together to eat chicken salad and talk about books since the time that they were new brides.
Imagine: They knew each other when their faces were entirely free of wrinkles, their diamond engagement rings sparkly, their children just babies. Now most of these women are grandmothers. Some have lost husbands to death, some to divorce. Some have found new love late in life. Some have surprised themselves by liking their careers, careers they didn’t expect to need or to have. Others have stayed on a more traditional course, remaining homemakers and helpmates.
Since that first book club visit, I have become a regular book clubber. Not only because I’ve been visiting clubs to discuss Bound South, but because I joined a book club myself. We are called, for reasons I don’t quite understand, the Bed Pillers. We meet once a month, rotating from home to home, unless someone who is supposed to host is overworked or pregnant, in which case we go to Taqueria del Sol for fish tacos and margaritas.
Most of the Bed Pillers have spouses, young children and animals. Some are stay-at-home mommies, some work outside the home. One is a corporate lawyer whose husband is a stay-at-home dad. As a group our look—in general—is put together though a little offbeat. Take Kim, who dyed the tips of her short, spiky hair pink after leaving her job to stay home with her kids.
“Why not?” she asked. “It’s not as if I have to impress clients.”
We get together to talk about books, but we also talk about our lives. We organize meal drop-offs after someone has had a baby. We exchange gifts at Christmas. We take a weekend trip once or twice a year. This spring we are going to a vacation home in the mountains where there will be a hot tub. Those who are still breastfeeding will bring along their pumps. Many jokes have already been made about the efficacy of pumping while hot tubbing.
As a writer, perhaps the fact that we Bed Pillers don’t spend our entire meetings discussing the book should bother me. It doesn’t. To read a book is to take an interest in a life, or lives, outside your own. And we are interested in the lives found within the pages of a novel. But we are also interested in each other’s lives, in the plot twists, the unexpected joys, and the inevitable heartbreaks that—as humans—we are destined to encounter.
We Bed Pillers may look a little different than the women in the Buckhead book club, but we actually share a lot in common. All that really separates us is age and the era in which we were born. But in thirty years, if we are lucky enough to still be alive, we too will have grandchildren and more wrinkles. We too will have lost loved ones, perhaps to divorce, or to death. And maybe we too will find new love later in life. One thing is certain: in thirty years our lives will have gone through twists and turns that I cannot now predict.
Throughout the change and upheaval that life will surely bring, we will read books and we will get together to talk about them and to talk about us.
And why shouldn’t we? Our lives are the stuff of novels.
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