Book Club – Reading Between the Wines

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 isWoman in the Window 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.

  1. All books are selected by unanimous decision of the membership. A book must be recommended by at least three members to be considered.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. A time frame for the discussion is suggested, but not always adhered to, especially when the book has been particularly well received.
  8. We take our literature somewhat seriously, but ourselves not so much.book club

 

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.

book club 2

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.

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20 Responses to Book Club – Reading Between the Wines

  1. Tracey says:

    I enjoyed your review and will check out that book. Now that I’m retired, I finally joined a club and my first meeting is next week. This club walks as a group along our waterway while discussing the group. I’m curious to see how that works. Yours sounds very well organized and fun!!

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  2. I also enjoy my book club although we are a much smaller group of only 10 women. You sound very organised but with so many members I suppose you have to be. I love reading and my retirement provides great opportunities to read more often than before. I enjoyed your review and will keep an eye out for this book. Thanks!!

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  3. That sounds like a good book… it is now on my list. I am a member of a book club too. We have around twelve members, which works out since we rotate who hosts each month. The host picks the book and provides all the food and drinks. The only issue I have with our group is that, now that I’m retired, I really don’t want to drive far during rush hour (we meet at 5:30). I’d love to find a similar group whose members live closer to my home.

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    • Suzanne says:

      I completely understand wanting to enjoy a little more convenience attached to our leisure time at this stage of life. Good luck with finding something close to home.

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  4. patwdoyle11 says:

    Suzanne, joining a book club has been on my list for awhile now and I really do need to see about doing it. I enjoy reading but am not known to venture far from the genre’s I love (romance and mystery for me). I think I could manage a book a month to push my thinking! I need to figure out how to find one that is close to me – I know convenience is important for me to start a habit. I like the idea of wine, but a walking discussion sounds fun too. Thanks for sharing your experience with a book club.

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    • Suzanne says:

      Pat, I would suggest that you check with your local library first. If they don’t have a group, they might be able to steer you towards one. Also, MeetUp.com is a good source. Google it and search for reading groups in your area.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Suzanne, I recently read this book in a Book Club I loved it!

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  6. Gilda Baxter says:

    Since retiring I am able to enjoy reading so much more. I will check out the book you recommended. I used to be part of a cinema club. We used to choose a film every month and meet up for drinks and discussion afterwards. The film venue was an old fashion movie theatre with lots of character in a charming little town near where I used to live. Since moving house I have not been to any of the meetings. Sounds like you have a lot of fun with your book club, it is great to be part of something that has endured for such a long time😄

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  7. Hi, Suzanne – I am a member of two separate book clubs. Both are structured similarly to what Janis described above — except both groups cap membership at “10”, and both groups meet at 1:00 pm on weekdays. We’ve read lots of historical fiction (not my favourite) and some psychological thrillers (definitely not my favourite). So far, I have read every book on our list — I am way too much of a nerd not to! 🙂
    I like the organization of your book club – especially the wine and the large group. Sounds like great fun!

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    • Suzanne says:

      Hi Donna, sometimes I long for a small group of 10 or 12, as was our beginnings, but the large group does have its advantages. We are able to rotate positions often, and no one faces burnout. What are some titles you would suggest from your clubs, we are always looking for new material.

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  8. kemkem says:

    I suspect l would judge Anna harshly, but the book sounds intriguing. I love to read, and l am so glad to be doing more of it now. I also want to write more. I just released a very short story novel on Amazon, but you might find it too spicy :-). I also belong to a beginner Spanish book club here in Valencia. There are about 12 of us and it’s fun discovering new words in Spanish. I sometimes show up for the intermediate group meeting because there are way less people, just to interact and discover a new restaurant…haha!

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    • Suzanne says:

      Not that I need one, but there is always a new reason to like you. You join Spanish Book Clubs to discover a new restaurants and I attend my club for the wine! Spicy is good, maybe not book club “approved”, but good. Some of us wanted to discuss 50 Shades…but that got nixed pretty fast. 🙂

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  9. JT Twissel says:

    It’s been my experience that people in a book club rarely ever see eye to eye regarding books. Not even my friends like the same books!

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