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Home & Garden Last Updated: Sep 5, 2012 - 1:19:16 PM

With kids back in school, beach reads give way to book clubs
By Jennifer Johnston
Sep 5, 2012 - 1:01:22 PM

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At precisely the halfway point between my car and the home of the book club host, I become startlingly aware of how I am any number of predators’ textbook target. I’m walking alone, in the dark, down a dirt street (courtesy of a repaving project, hence the inability to park in a driveway), toting a bottle of wine in one hand and a recycled Victoria’s Secret bag in the other, conspicuously trying to decipher house numbers. I can just see it, the front page headline of USA Today (okay, fine, page 15 of the Hometown Eccentric): Mother of Two and Book Club No-Show Chloroformed to Within an Inch of Her Life Loses Nice Bottle of Hybrid Pinot, Saves Inventory of Paperback Books Camouflaged in Lingerie Bag, Remembers Nothing But is Certain to Have Amnesia-Like Flashbacks Detailing Horrific Assault… oh, here we are. The members of the book club are in full chatter inside the screened-in porch, and the literary gods are smiling on me as my paranoia-induced terror gives way to warmth and welcome. In this same room are other moms who would be just as willing to risk life and limb for a little grown-up social time, and perhaps they, too, did on this evening. But as I enter the circle of fellow readers, it occurs to me that we could actually do this in the light of day. Why? Because the kids are back in school.
In our age of child-centric decision-making and offspring-focused scheduling, meaningful adult leisure time is too often confined to a little post tuck-in DVR or a solo trip to Target. C’mon, moms (and dads), we’re worth more than that. And frankly, our brains are dehydrating. The book club is a near-perfect remedy. For starters, you prove to yourself that you are, indeed, still literate (and – surprise! - you still understand things like irony and figurative language). Second, you are forced to respect a meeting date and time of relative inflexibility. Other contributors to your calendar are reluctant to protest your absence, as the moniker “book club” itself sounds very authoritative and obligatory. Finally, and most fabulously, you will exchange a vibrant flow of ideas – not to mention full sentences – with other adults. Awkward silences are kept to a minimum, as topics for discussion have been spoon-fed to you thanks to a thoughtfully-chosen, debate-provoking book.  
There is no catch at the end, and nothing to buy. Even hosting the meeting is a low-maintenance responsibility – make it a short line of traffic from the front door to light refreshments to the chat space, and you’ve limited yourself to a mere 30-pace line-of-tidy (okay, guests may use the bathroom but this is no time for a Home and Garden Tour). Frankly, the most challenging aspect of book club participation is actually finding time to read the book. You’ll need to make sure the demanding loved ones in your household understand that this is a commitment you’ve made to yourself and your elite Warriors of the Written Word. They don’t have to know how much fun you have; that might fade your badge of honor. The upside is that you are setting a pretty cool example for any reluctant readers in your home. And for those working parents unable to make a daytime club: squirrel away a well-deserved evening out, and delight in the opportunity to spike your sweet tea (concurrently spiking the candor of dialogue).
So, now, what to read and whom to recruit? You, as a member, should have some say – at least periodically – on both points. Clubs generally rotate book selection, allowing each participant an even number of picks on a volunteer or assigned basis. Typically, this happens informally as a member reads or gets a trusted review on a particular book. Daniel Island resident Kathleen McDonald, who has organized a book club of up to twenty members, tells us her simple strategy: “The person that hosts the meeting picks the book.” One note here: opposition to a member-chosen book should be discouraged, or book selection can get messy. As engaging as a well-matched catfight can be, it does nothing to further the cause of the club. If a member wants to read only the sort of books she regularly keeps on her own nightstand, she is kind of missing the point (and benefit) of the club itself. You will not adore every book, but chances are you’ll still enjoy the discussion that surrounds them. Variety should be considered, from nonfiction to novels and history to chick lit, promoting a slightly different contribution from each reader at each meeting. This is not to say you should abandon hope for a Fifty Shades of Gray prequel; just rest assured you are not actually cheating on Christian by simply exploring another, uh, genre.
And while we’re on the topic of diversity, I can’t underscore enough how vital it is to get a melting pot of members. Inviting only thirty-something Republican moms of toddlers is limiting and can get rather ho-hum after a while. Instead, pool together people of varying ages and stages of life. It is beautiful to see how harmonizing the discussion can become, yet how many viewpoints you will be fortunate enough from which to learn. There are too few times in life when you will find yourself in such open company. Not everyone in the room will stem from your most elite circle of friends, and that alone may allow for a more refreshingly candid – not to mention dishy and fun – flow of opinions and knowledge.  
And if you don’t have a ready-made cross-section of bookworm representation? As it happens, the most traditional way of achieving this deliberate assortment is the neighborhood upstart; it’s logistically convenient, and can offer instant diversity. But perhaps you’d like to extend your reach beyond your DI ‘hood. Fear not; there are book babes all around, you simply need to hunt them down. Try your kids’ school – not just other parents, but teachers and staff as well. A favorite hair stylist, your daughter’s dance teacher, even a beloved coffee barista could be wonderful additions to your club. And I’ve seen first-hand how juicy the talk can get with family members present; encourage your friends to invite their mothers/sisters/grandmothers to join. You’ll bear witness to little ancestral secrets unfolding as plot analyses strike a familial nerve. Reading comprehension has never been so scandalous…
Finally, an exciting lead on procurement: the Daniel Island Library offers book club kits, each containing five copies of the selected title, which may be checked out for up to two months. Note that most clubs schedule meetings at four to eight week intervals, and the “next” book selection is announced at the close of the “current” meeting. McDonald says her group meets every six weeks. Clubs with more than five members will need to keep the borrowed books circulating, staying on top of readers who might be coddling their copies. The library kits even include discussion questions; this is a great place to start if members are having a difficult time narrowing down potential books and/or kick-starting relevant dialogue. (Notice I said relevant – it is all too easy to slip into banter about negligent hubbies or spirited tots and teens, but chronic perpetrators must be tactfully redirected.) The Daniel Island Library has several book club kits already on hand, but clubs can also request new titles, and the library will buy the books and assemble kits using funds provided by Friends of the Library and the Harvest Tour of Homes. But clubs may want to steer away from obscure titles, as library manager Abbey Adams tells us, “We’ll purchase them, but they have to be fairly popular so that we know the kits will be used by other clubs.”
Whatever your group’s approach from the start, your club is most likely to flourish under a formula blending a few ground rules for a solid foundation with a casual and welcoming forum, free of judgment. Of the enjoyment rendered by book clubs, McDonald attests, “One benefit: I have met a lot of wonderful people that I might not have run across in my normal daily activities. Another benefit is that it forces me to read books when I may not feel like it, and opens up my mind to new things.”
And if you’re still skeptical of the degree to which a meeting of tandem readers can raise the hairs on your neck, park a block away and carry suggestive props.
To reserve book club kits at the Daniel Island Library, call or stop in to register your book club and request specific titles.
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