After my husband left I felt adrift and knew I had to find something to tether me to the world or I might just float away. A book club was the first thing that saved me. But then, books always have.
Lucky for me, both my parents were great readers and there were always books and magazines and the odd Herter’s catalog in the house. Mom read to me, and then my brother and sister every night from a series of children’s classics she got though the mail. “Lassie Come Home”, “Black Beauty”, “Treasure Island”, and a sanitized version of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” were favorites. I looked forward to those close moments with mom.
Our little town didn’t have a library – not even at school. The routine visits from the Bookmobile were welcome diversions and I always tried to accumulate the most gold stars so that I could have the honor of choosing the books for my class. That’s where I discovered “Billy and Blaze” and all the horse stories of Marguerite Henry. Early on I learned to associate books with love, with pleasure, and with a reward for good behavior.
After my parents divorced mom moved us to town. I went from a small country school with 3 grades to a room and teacher to a (relatively) small town with 3 third grade classrooms! It was traumatic in all kinds of ways. The thing that saved me then was that both the school and town had wonderful libraries, and I had access to them! Even then I think I understood that a library card was a ticket that I could ride to anywhere.
I was probably only 9 or ten when the librarian caught me in the trade paperback section with my arms full of books which she thought might be inappropriate for a kid of my age.
Librarians are wise people. She pulled the top book off my stack and opened it to a random page and asked me to read to her. The book happened to be the western novel, “Down the Long Hills” by Louis L’Amour.
Fortunately I read well and after checking my comprehension of the words I’d just read aloud the librarian gave me free range of the entire collection! It wasn’t long until all the librarians were recommending books they thought I’d like. I learned to enjoy many genres, reading both fiction and nonfiction as fast as I could carry books home. I learned that I really liked biographies of interesting people – especially those who had overcome difficulties to do something great.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find that being a voracious reader from childhood saved me from falling into drugs or crime as I got older. Full disclosure – I was not a popular kid. No one ever offered me an illicit drug or invited me to a wild teenage party. No readers allowed seemed to be the rule in all the popular after school groups. That was OK with me. Then and now, I’d rather read than party anyway.
I have many reasons why I think reading is really important. It provided for me a refuge, especially during difficult times. It provided me with the notion that I could find an ending that was different from what was happening to me at the time.
As life got complicated I depended more and more on books to get me through my teen years. We moved a lot – mom’s been married 6 times. There’s a lot of chaos that comes with that. I think that’s why this quote from author Amy Tan resonates with me. If reading hadn’t taught me better I might have grown up thinking that I had to live in chaos my whole life. Books had distracted me from the seemingly insurmountable problems in my life. Books had given me faith that I could have a different kind of life from the one I knew.
It’s no surprise that I turned to books to get me through the divorce.
What did surprise me was that I voluntarily joined the new book club that was forming at my local library. I’d always thought of reading as a solitary pursuit once I got too big for mom’s bedtime stories. But several of my good friends encouraged me to give it a try, so I joined the Bookies. I had just over a month to read the first selection, “The Lovely Bones” by Alice Sebold.
It was not a book that I would have chosen for myself, which is one of the best things about a book club. Like the librarians of my youth, my Bookie friends suggested books I wouldn’t have otherwise read. I discovered one of my very favorite authors when a fellow Bookie choose Erik Larson’s fabulous book, “The Devil in the White City”.
Full disclosure – I did not find any redeeming value in having slogged through “Anna Karenina”.
I enjoyed discussing characters and plot points with my friends. It sure beat thinking exclusively about myself and my new reality. It was a relief that my Bookie friends kept the personal questions to a minimum.
A good book club can enrich the experience of reading a book in so many ways. Sometimes we would do a little research on the author, the setting, or a theme to share with the group. Once we watched an old movie version of a classic romance tale.
I also enjoyed the fact that we shared a meal while every time we met. That made the process of disbanding a marriage a little less lonely and sad.
I am truly thankful for the Bookies. Those ladies reached out to me when I would have drawn inward. They encouraged me when things got hard. They chose books that reminded me to dream about different possibilities, and then they encouraged the dream.
I truly was saved by a book club.