I’ve met quite a few book groups lately. Some gather in private rooms of restaurants that vary from modest to elegant. Some meet in coffee shops or church offices with no refreshments of any kind. Mine meets in a different house each time for low-bar refreshments (appetizers or soup and moderate wine, but lots of it). For others, it’s as much about the quality of food and vintage as it is about the book. I met with a group that was started in the Depression as way cash-strapped women could expand their libraries. In October I’ll read at the Centennial lunch of the “Friday Club” which has been meeting since 1911. My friend Ellen’s group has met for 11 years at monthly Sunday brunches. They have seen each other through their children’s adolescence and young adulthood. They have celebrated life changes and tended two members who lost beloved spouses. They are smart, opinionated, very different and as close as sisters.
In every one of these groups, even as I discuss my own work, I’m well aware that books are an excuse, a motive for community, the frame of a gathering of friends that is not really about content. And every one of these book clubs is exclusively female. “What about men’s book groups?” my husband demands. “What are we, chopped liver?” Amanda Bergeron, my highly informed editor at HarperCollins says she hasn’t heard of any men’s groups and she’s not sure why. After all, men do get together to play cards, watch games, fish, hunt and do other guy stuff that may involve a lot of talk and camaraderie. But the particular literary-social-emotional bonding of a books group seems particular to our sex, at least in Knoxville. It’s a great gift and I hope that Maurizio finds his group.