Having the time to read for pleasure is just one of the many benefits of being retired. Being a part of a book club makes that past-time even more enjoyable.
The book club in my community has been meeting monthly for over ten years. I have attended most of the meetings, but I do not always read the book. Yes, I am one of those, “I’m here for the wine,” book club members. I love to read, but I have difficulty making it a priority, (much like the gym), unless the selected book falls into one of my two favorite genres – historical fiction or physiological thriller.
This month, the book chosen by our membership, is Woman In The Window by A.J. Finn, who is actually Daniel Mallory, a former book Editor turned best selling author with his very first novel. At first glance, I thought it was going to be a copy-cat of “Gone Girl,” or “Girl on the Train,” both of which I enjoyed, but did not need another version of. I was wrong.
I happened to meet Daniel Mallory when he appeared at our library sponsored, Book Mania event last March. He was there to promote his novel by participating in a panel discussion. When asked about the familiarity of the book title, he was quick to point out that he wrote about a woman, not a girl. He got my attention and held it for the hour long discussion.
The main character in the book is Anna, a successful child psychologist, who is suffering from agoraphobia, a debilitating anxiety disorder that was, in her case, brought on by some sort of trauma that is hinted at, but not revealed for nearly half the book. As the tale begins, she has been unable to step outside her home for more than ten months. Anna spends her days in a drug and wine induced fog, with occasional lucid moments as she sorts through her desperate situation with house visits from a physical therapist and a psychiatrist. She is obsessed with watching black and white movies and spying on her neighbors with her Nikon camera. She likes to imagine herself meeting with the book club, drinking wine, laughing and discussing the latest best-seller. But, she knows that will not happen, since it would require that she must actually leave her home. Then, one day Anna sees something, or thinks she sees something, that is so shocking that it compels her to open the door, step outside, and walk across the courtyard. The answers to the question of “what did Anna see?” unfold as the author masterfully creates frustration and doubt regarding everything we think we know.
The tale takes a few twists and turns, with some predictable and some very surprising revelations, that eventually lead to a highly satisfying climatic ending. I feel certain that even Hitchcock would have appreciated the range of suspense and intrigue contained within this 400+ page thriller.
At Book Mania, Mr. Mallory was forthcoming about his own bout with depression, miss-diagnosis and eventual adjustment to prescription medications. He revealed to our audience that he always knew he had a book within, but did not know exactly how to develop the story until one day when he was sitting in his New York apartment staring out the window. As he watched a neighbor move about her apartment for several minutes, the idea surfaced and Woman in the Window was born.
Hollywood was quick to come knocking and Woman In the Window, starring Amy Adams will be released in October, 2019.
How We Do Book Club
My book club started small, but grew quickly. Our current membership exceeds forty, with an average attendance of about 28 – 32 each month. We realized early on that having structure was essential to managing our large group. What we came up with, and what works for us is the following.
- All books are selected by unanimous decision of the membership. A book must be recommended by at least three members to be considered.
- Genres must vary and at least one classic must be included on the reading list each year. The books we select teach, inspire and entertain in a variety of ways. They are often reflective and insightful, and almost always generate a robust discussion.
- Our reading list is planned several months in advance and posted to our membership via email and on our community calendar. We also keep a “suggested reading” list of books that did not make the cut.
- We have a team of volunteer hostesses and a moderator for each book discussion planned well in advance. While we have suggested guidelines for the hostesses, they are free to decide upon theme and be as creative as they wish. They are responsible for organizing food and wine with participation from the membership.
- A dedicated organizer keeps us informed via email each month. She also maintains a complete history of the books we have read throughout the years.
- Discussions are orderly; we have guidelines for the moderator which include how to organize the discussion, how to contain those who might want to monopolize the conversation, and how to draw out less confident participants.
- A time frame for the discussion is suggested, but not always adhered to, especially when the book has been particularly well received.
- We take our literature somewhat seriously, but ourselves not so much.
My Turn to Moderate
This month, I moderated “Girl In the Window” since it is entirely in my wheelhouse of interests. The hostesses went over the top to set the stage for the discussion and even dressed in our protagonist’s favorite costume – a dirty bathrobe. They set each table with an array of empty Merlot bottles (Anna’s drink of choice), prescription drug containers and chocolate.
The symbolism was appreciated by everyone.
I began the discussion with a show of thumbs up and thumbs down to gauge the reception of the book. While the majority enjoyed this book, there was a vocal minority who felt that Anna was an unsympathetic and unreliable character, which made her hard to support when you consider that her situation was largely self-inflicted. Overwhelmingly, our book club loves to read about strong women, and in the beginning of the book, it was hard to find that in Anna. As her story unfolded, and for those who stuck with it, we not only came to respect her as a flawed character, but to admire her strength in the face of extreme adversity.
There were many discussion points and themes in this book, but one of the most profound is how quick we are to judge something we do not understand – like mental illness. Anna was completely dismissed as a crack-pot by her neighbors and by authorities. She was humiliated by local children and ignored by virtually everyone. I kept thinking, “what if she lived next door to me?” would that be my attitude, as well?
For me, a good book challenges my imagination, entertains, enlightens and educates, as it poses questions that I might not have considered otherwise. This was a very good book.
Why Join a Book Club
If you are newly retired or well into this stage of life, you have likely discovered the benefits of joining a group. Every group has a common denominator which attracts participants, and are as varied as quilting to hiking. I was in a paddle board club for a couple of years because I wanted to learn the sport in a safe environment, with others at my level. When I couldn’t find a photography club in my area, I started one. Read that story here. Both of those groups provided connections that I was looking for at the time.
A book club is the obvious place for people who love to read and talk about books. Of all the clubs and groups I have been associated with, my book club is the one that has passed the test of time and there are a number of reasons for that. I feel connected, appreciated and involved within that circle and our association extends well beyond the love of books. When a group teaches, encourages and supports beyond the “common denominator” it is a keeper in my book, pun intended.