Mind you, I had no interest in being part of a book club. But this points up one of the curses of my upbringing: my mother instilled in all five of her children the...not idea...imperative...that when doing a job you not only did whatever had to be done, but what should be done. And always to the best of your ability, it goes without saying. So seeing that there was a demand among the library's patrons for a book club, I knew I had to give them a book club. I had a vague hope that after a meeting or two it would be possible to slide the running of the club onto someone else's shoulders. One of my staff was actually interested in participating, so the possibility of her taking over existed, and even if not, she could at least serve as the library's "presence," letting me off the hook.
To my surprise, I found the first meeting quite enjoyable, as I have the two subsequent ones. I find I love talking about books with others who also love talking about books. And the selections agreed on by the group have "forced" me to read books I doubtless would never have read otherwise -- my reading for some time now has been, to a shocking degree, limited to mysteries -- but which have proved to be, at the very least very well-written (and, indeed, have made me despair of ever being able to write so well); and in two cases have turned out to be books I loved. It is truly one of the supreme pleasures of life to discover an artist -- whether a writer, a painter, an actor, a singer or musician -- whose work leaves one moved and impressed.
Our first group choice was Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, a best seller that I found so depressing I didn't even finish reading it. (I have happily reached that point in life where I no longer feel compelled to finish a book just because I've started it.) But even that book, with its very unlikable main character, is wonderfully written. As I commented to the group, you could see every person she described, every scene, and she managed this without a lot of description! A sample scene: (characters: sweet, hen-pecked Henry, his too-often bitch of a wife, Olive, and their son Christopher)
A Saturday at home: Lunch was crabmeat sandwiches, grilled with cheese. Christopher was putting one into his mouth, but the phone rang, and Olive went to answer it. Christopher, without being asked, waited, the sandwich held in his hand. Henry's mind seemed to take a picture of that moment, his son's instinctive deference at the very same time they heard Olive's voice in the next room. "Oh you poor child," she said, in a voice Henry would always remember -- filled with such dismay that all her outer Olive-ness seemed stripped away. "You poor, poor child." [It was the young woman who worked at Henry's pharmacy, calling to tell him that her husband had just been killed in a hunting accident.]
The thing is, there are endless bad things like this that happen, endless everyday occurrences that demonstrate how disappointing and downright bleak life ends up being for so many people As one of the members of our club said, "It's too real." The characters are small-town folk in Maine, but they could be anywhere, leading their lives of quiet desperation.
So I came away from reading this book thinking that Elizabeth Strout is a really excellent writer -- and maybe I should give another of her books a chance -- but this one is a well-written downer.
I'll tell you about our other reads later, but in the mean-time, if you like reading, and talking about what you read...find a book club.