So many things are right about my book club that I hate to bring up the one thing that’s wrong.
It’s our name. “LILACS” is an acronym for “Like-minded Intelligent Literary Agents of the Credible Sisterhood”. It’s that first word that gets me. We are not like-minded. In fact, I think the key to the club’s longevity (15 years this month) is our differences, not our similarities.
We take turns choosing our books, and it’s there our differences tend to show up. While one member prefers classics, another tends to pick books with counterculture themes. I often choose non-fiction. Someone else prefers literary fiction.
Aside from genre, we each have our reasons for choosing the books we do, and each reason has led to some memorable reads.
Reason #1: The book is a classic I’ve never read.
Terri picked Ethan Frome, a short, classic novel about love thwarted. We all loved this book and had plenty to discuss, from our impatience with Ethan and his hangdog pursuit of an illicit affair to how our ability to care for others is a source of strength for some people.
Reason #2: The book tells a story I’ve always wanted to know.
Emma Cline’s novel, The Girls, is a fictionalized examination of how Charles Manson’s ‘family’ became enthralled by the tiny criminal. When Pam picked it, the novel rang true for our entire group, reminding us how our adolescence is a time when we balance between the need to be accepted and the need to be free. At the same time, like a lot of good fiction, it offered us insight into how people can be captivated by seemingly charmless leaders.
Reason #3: I’m curious about that incident.
While I had already read Fire in Beulah by Rilla Askew when Denette chose it for our club, we all were enthusiastic about reading a novel set in the middle of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Long ignored and pushed back into shadows, the terrible events of 1921 were mostly unfamiliar to all of us although we had all spent decades in Oklahoma. The book was not just a history lesson. The main characters are two very complex women, and the author’s stylistic choices are good fodder for conversation.
Of course, novels are not textbooks, and non-fiction has also given us a view of history we might not otherwise have had. Columbine by Dave Cullen is a book that had deep resonance for many of us in the group, since we are all connected to education or educators. The 2009 book recounts both the impetus behind the terrible school shooting and the aftermath for its victims.
Reason #4: I want to know more about people.
Literature in general allows us to develop empathy by examining the motivations and results of people’s actions. While some books were uniquely suited to help us understand a particular culture, like The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a non-fiction book about Hmong culture I chose for us because my school has a large Hmong population, others gave us characters that we admired for their gumption or derided for their character faults. Teenage Mattie Ross from True Grit won us over with her determination to avenge her father’s death in turn-of-the-century Indian Territory. We detested Philip Carey, the main character in Of Human Bondage, for his inability to do something, anything, to improve his life. We also shared a dislike for Sal Paradise, the ‘hero’ of On the Road, whom we saw as an emblem for the Beat generation, always in search of experience and never changing or growing because of it.
Reason #5: I want you to love this author, or genre, or book the way I do.
When I chose Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, I knew that not everyone in our group read horror, but Jackson’s story is a compelling puzzle even if a person doesn’t like scary stories. Is Elinor crazy or is the house haunted? Or is it both?
Of course, not every choice has been a success. It’s one thing to dislike a character. It’s another when someone picks a book that no one likes. It’s just this past month, after all this time, with my choice of Educated by Tara Westover that I’ve been forgiven for choosing the novel Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott the first time I selected a book.
Intelligent, Literary, Credible? Yes. Sisters? Yes again, especially because our diverse choices have brought us together.