It's November, which means I'm starting to get ready for one of my favorite nights of the year. It's when I gather with a group of super smart, funny women and make an entire reading plan for the next 12 months — together.
As an only child, books were my first friends, and my mom took me to the library every week. When I was an English major in college, I learned to love discussing plots and symbolism, characters and dialogue. But it took this —my book club of 12 women, now in our 10th year — to give these friendships the language and depth that comes from collective reading. Part of what works is the ritual, the sameness, the welcoming open door on the third Thursday of the month.
At our book choosing meeting at the end of the year, always at Jenni's house, we'll pick eleven books to read over the next year, one a month until next December. One of our members described the way we choose the books as magic. And it is in a way. We each come armed with books we want to pitch. Some people have one book they want and that's it. Some have a whole list of the year's top award winners. Our literary drinking game is to take a drink, almost always a sip of wine, whenever anyone says "Man Booker."
Renee, who is a marketing genius, brings her laptop and as each person pitches her book, or books, she charts our reactions and excitement level. When we've all had a turn, she can say, "OK, these are the top few." We also make cookies to swap, which is why my kids consider this the best book club of the year, because they wake up in the morning to a delicious, dizzying array of rugelach, pizzelles and Mexican chocolate cookies. We really do talk about the books. But we also talk about life.
Over the years, we've raised our kids together, negotiated driver's licenses, proms, swim teams, dance lessons, an evolution of Snapchat and TikTok. We almost always come around to talking about lice, again. We’ve offered to search each other's heads for lice. And if that isn't true friendship, I don't know what is.
We've celebrated bat mitzvahs and graduations along with our own milestones of big birthdays, remarriages and professional awards. But we really come out for each other when it's tough. And we have had our share of that, bringing food to the three of us who have gone through breast cancer, taking each other to treatments and tests, celebrating shaved heads and all clear reports. We are like a big family of sisters through divorces, moves and our bittersweet specialty of making book club cookies for funerals. Three times this past year.
These are the women for whom I will continue to read a book I don't even like just so we can talk about it. (Thinking of you, Jonathan Franzen, and “Freedom.”) There are now close to 100 books we've read together.
We might still all be friends if we weren't in a book club. But the strong woven string of thinking about the same characters and settings, about story and language binds us together in a different way.
Books are much more than an excuse for meeting with these women, who I dearly love. When we share ideas with each other, we share some of ourselves. And when we share books, we deepen our connection to each other, and to the world.
Here are the books (and a few memorable moments) from the last year in Shannon's book club.