For years, I wasn’t a joiner. I felt socially awkward. I cherished my independence, and feared group-think. I had interests in common with some groups, but found they either took things too seriously, or not seriously enough. After years of dancing to my own drum, I’ve achieved a strong sense of self. But, recently, I’ve been running into people who dance to a beat that harmonizes with mine. At last, I’m finding my tribe. The wise council of this new tribe, is my book club.
We’re five women who love to read fiction. In fiction, we escape our daily lives, journey to other places and people, and trek into our own heads and hearts. I dare say we’re women who approach the world with wonder, compassion, and humor, and who nurture those characteristics through the books we read, such as: Into the Beautiful North, The Book Thief, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
Once a month, one of us picks a book for the group to read, and when the month is up we gather at that member’s house to eat, drink, and be merry… and talk at least a little about the book. This past month, I chose When She Flew, by Jennie Shortridge. It’s the story of a Gulf War veteran who lives in the woods with his 13-year-old daughter, until the police find them. We all enjoyed the story to varying degrees, though it wasn’t tops on our list. Whether we love a book or not, we enjoy deconstructing stories, defining our tastes, and sharing ideas. We’re learning more about ourselves and each other.
Each month we gather to eat, drink, and be merry… and talk at least a little about the book. (Photo by Jen Reeder. In photo, clockwise from left: Kelli, Faith, Cara, Chelly)
A man I met in Ronda, Spain once told me,“Cada persona es un mundo.” “Each person is a world.” If so, we can travel far without ever leaving town, finding unexplored frontiers in everyone we meet. Each month, I explore four of them. So am I saying that discovering these women excites me as much as meeting the people of Zanzibar or hiking among Inca Ruins in Peru? Yes, I am.
The other night, Jen was the first to arrive at my place. Jen is so at ease in her own skin that, when I asked her to open the wine, she had no qualms about propping the bottle between her feet for leverage when my rudimentary opener proved no match for the cork. I doubled over with laughter, and felt myself becoming more comfortable in my own skin.
Chelly is a connoisseur of food and drink. Yet her knowledge of the finer things is tempered by a relaxed joie de vivre, so that she didn’t even raise an eyebrow when Jen handed her a water glass for her wine because I didn’t have enough wine glasses. When I cut my triple-berry pie for dessert, she asked with delight, “You made your own crust?!”
Faith is a keen listener and critical thinker. I can see the wheels turning as she takes in all our comments on this month’s book, then throws in a one-liner, like, “I would have liked to see the father more well-developed. We don’t really learn any of his history.” When Kelli said she thought the new food book by Michael Pollan was called, “The Something Food Something,” Faith burst into infectious laughter, and repeated the line a couple of times as the evening went on. In case you’re wondering, I think Kelli was talking about In Defense of Food, but Pollan’s latest is Food Rules.
Although Kelli and I laugh as much as anyone, we can propel each other into serious territory. We grew animated talking about the Sudanese refugee in Dave Eggers’ book, What is the What.
“It’s a beautiful book,” I said, “if you can stand learning more about the terrible things humans can do to each other.”
“I thought it was a testament to human resilience,” Kelli said.
Though the others hadn’t read it, they indulged us. But when we started in on health care reform, Jen put a stop to that, laughing as she turned to Faith and asked, “Sooo, what exciting things are you looking forward to this year?”
Like any foreign journey, my book club pushes me out of my comfort zone. This is only partly because the others suggest books I might not otherwise read.
My husband is usually the cook in our house, yet once every five months I have to stretch my food vocabulary—usually limited to such simple things as eggs, pasta, and cookies. I don’t usually define myself in terms of ethnicity, yet on my first two book club nights I dealt with my cooking phobia by turning to the comfort foods of my Mexican ancestry: quesadillas and enchiladas.
I also have a mild phobia of entertaining. I love guests, but I’m self-conscious about my obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve heard that guests relax more easily if their hostess is relaxed. I feel more relaxed with my book club than with most people. Still, even at my happiest, I’m typically strung as tightly as a violin on opening night. “Sit still, Cara,” I tell myself. “But maybe someone needs something… I’d worry more about whether you’re talking too much… Oh, I’d better shut up.” Round and round it goes.
Yet the laughter goes on, including my own. I realize that these people really do accept me, that we all accept each other as we are. We’re all just happy that we’ve found our tribe.
I plan to take my sweet time learning about this tribe. As Paul Bowles writes in The Sheltering Sky, “Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another.” I hope to move slowly through the worlds of these women. Though I might belong no more to one than the next, it’s good to feel that I belong with them all.