U: The Unknown, Book Club
The last book club I was part of lasted two novels. Many in the club of four did not even finish one or both. We were all busy parents with very little ones at the time – probably five or so years ago. We began, knowing we just might be kidding ourselves. Even when that quickly proved to be true, we kept up the front with husbands so we could still get together. Maybe we would just rent the movie version of the book and dub it the Movie Club.
So recently, when my 8-yr-old daughter, Ava and I were invited to join a mother/ daughter book club, I cautiously accepted. The first meeting was in January and we waited too long to track down the book: The Van Gogh Cafe. Come that Sunday of book club, we went anyway, not having read a single sentence. For the next round, we vowed to get the book early and finish it.
Round two wasn’t until March 18 – two months out. I recommended Esperanza Rising, a book we had purchased the day we struck out looking for The Van Gogh Cafe, to book club’s next host. It was a lengthy book of 262 pages, given the typical short reads we would consider. However, since it was winter and we had nine rather than six weeks until the next time we would meet, she must have figured it was an okay bet.
The group is six mothers and our third-grade daughters. In our breakout sessions where the girls play and burn off some energy, us Mom’s catch up on school-related topics, the random drinking laws in Wisconsin, experiencing what’s it’s like to be awesome at any sport vicariously through our children and everything in between. I tried mommy/ baby playdates when Ava was little and I remember feeling uninspired, wondering, is this all there is? This time around, in this format, it works for me.
It’s an involved club. 4:30-5:30 girls play/ moms chat; 5:30-6:30: dinner/ more chatting; 6:30-7:15: book discussion. 7:30 adjourn. This particular time, the host had one activity (a recommend from the book) – making yarn dolls. We had another birthday party engagement 3-5, so Ava missed out on this. Really quite precious. We did our own at home later.
The host took care of making dinner – enchiladas and tacos – and the guests supplied the rest of the dishes. Based on the Mexican theme, one mom brought this amazing tres leches cake from a Mexican-owned bakery on Lyndale and another made guac. Due to either time constraints or lameness, I brought super salty store-bought chips and some salsa. The host had some good beverages on hand as well as the hibiscus tea based on the recipe in the back of the book.
When it’s time to discuss the book, one veteran book club leader starts the conversation. She has had experience with this stuff – choosing the books, leading the discussion – due to her eldest daughter’s book club she’s belonged to for years. The book at hand, Esperanza Rising, tells the story of a girl born into a privileged life in Mexico. This character seems most relatable to them because Esperanza is about their age. Early in the story she encounters death and the loss of her home that soon causes her to suddenly move to California, leaving all she’s known and one person in particular, her Abuelita (grandmother), behind.
Her new life in California on a farm is hard work and she doesn’t know how to do any of it. She faces even more adversity over the course of the harvesting season – from peaches to asparagus – and as the title indicates, she eventually rises above it. Some of us in the group have finished, others not. We are 18 pages out from the end. Regardless, we still have some good discussion and sometimes the girls get a little shy or silly or might have an attitude. Ava says little except to raise her hand to recommend the next book we’ll be reading.
I know it’s early in the club, but there’s a few things going on that I like: 1. As girls enter into tween phase, it can be difficult to connect with them – this is something we do together (we actually read together and out loud, taking turns; you could also just read it independently) 2. I find out what’s going on at their school (some Mom’s are in school volunteering daily and we’re all involved in different things at school we share what we know) 3. We can show the right way to have a conversation in a setting that’s not school teacher driven. 4. With the mix of ages, it gives them the opportunity to gain some confidence talking among adults and verbalizing their thoughts.
I grew up in a small town – it was easier to know your kids’ friends’ parents. You knew what was going on at school – the whole community knew. In the city, we have to make deliberate efforts to create these connections and be in tune with important issues. Getting together – whether book club or other – is working on many levels for us. Hopefully we can stick with it through August, when it’s our turn to host. I’m sure we’ll rise to the occassion.