This is a guest post from Laura Oosterbeek. Laura is a Promiscuous Reader and Book Club Slut who spends her time biking around looking for sidewalk cats and browsing bookstalls. She is obsessed with Donna Tartt and drinks her coffee black. Originally from Aotearoa, New Zealand, she lives in Cambridge, UK.
When I was a kid, my mother was in a book club.
It wasn’t the type of book club that was an excuse for wine and cheese and gossip (although that did happen). It was the type of book club that brought together (what seemed to me) a mysterious group of women once a month to discuss books.
We were usually banished upstairs for the evening, but I remember the early morning debris left behind. Wine glasses and blown-out candles and fancy plates full of crumbs. The smell of strangers perfume, and maybe a forgotten scarf or pair of glasses. But most of all: books everywhere.
Instead of choosing one book to read, each member took it in turns to buy one hundred dollars worth of books at the beginning of the year, which they would then add to the collective library. Then, once a month, they would meet and share and swap and choose and discuss. Naturally, the library grew year by year, there were piles and piles of them, rotating through their homes, or waiting patiently in boxes until they would be brought out again to be pored over, chosen, taken home.
It was the perfect kind of exclusive and magical society. The ultimate book club.
Now, fifteen years later, I am a member (or alumna) of ten book clubs.
I think my mother’s book club began an obsession which I am wholly and utterly okay with.
I can never keep up with all of the reading, and my slutty reading habits mean that if I don’t enjoy the current book, then I don’t bother past the first fifty pages. But the opportunity to discuss books and reading, or obsess over the book, or to argue one to the ground is something that is pure magic. I get to try books I normally wouldn’t, and taste authors and styles I’ve never heard of before.
Half of the books clubs I am in are online, while the others are off. These books clubs have connected me with people across the world, and they have connected me with those in my own community. I get to spend time with people who love books as much as I do. And I always have someone to talk to about the book I’ve just read. They all take different forms. One of the clubs has a monthly theme (books within books, writers of colour, bad protagonist, female authors), and we bring our own choices to share and discuss. A few stick to the classic ‘one book a month’ in which we spend a lot of time debating and voting on the monthly choice (I frequently have to hold my tongue due to being the biggest literary zealot), while one is merely my best friend and I lying on her attic bedroom floor obsessing (and arguing) over a book we’ve both read (we specifically put aside time for this, which I insist makes it an official book club).
But, due to my nomadic life, none are like my mother’s book club.
Most of the time I don’t want to grow up, settle down, and become an adult. But, when I do, I will begin the ultimate book club. It will have a huge collective library. There will be mysterious women and wine, and we will stay up late into the night discussing and reading by candlelight. It will create the perfect aesthetic chaos that I remember from when I was young.
Or, maybe I’ll just join my mother’s bookclub.