Book Club

My parents had already retired to Cape Cod when I moved here. It’s a coincidence that we ended up living so near each other — I had never imagined it, frankly — but it has worked out very well. One item in the “plus” column: my mother invited me to join her reading group. Fifteen years later, I am happy to say we are still going strong. Many of the group are in their 80s now, and going strong is not something they take for granted anymore.

We are about a dozen well-educated and/or well-read ladies, and one such gentleman. Two of us are writers. The rest are retired from various things: teaching, nursing, geology, law, journalism, public relations, frame-making, home-making.

Through the years, we’ve lost two husbands to Parkinson’s and two to heart disease. Two of us have died of ovarian cancer, and one of complications after a fall. Diagnoses keep coming – Mom has Lewy Body Dementia. Jack has colon cancer. Hips and knees have been replaced. Reaction times have slowed, and balance has become precarious. Hardly anybody can hear very well anymore, which makes for a lot of entertaining hollering, misunderstanding, and repeating of things at our monthly meetings. But with the possible exception of Doris, a onetime lawyer who’s in assisted living now and won’t use her iPad (much to the exasperation of Norma, who’s visited her several times specifically to teach her how to respond to emails), everyone’s still pretty sharp.

We met yesterday to discuss two books: Linda Greenlaw’s Lifesaving Lessons and Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat. Two books, because we’d had to skip February’s meeting on account of being buried by snow. You’ve probably heard about all the snow. I am not going to talk about it.

It was a small meeting. Several of our members depart for warmer climes in winter months and email thoughts to be read aloud in their absence. Some of these run along the lines of “I can’t tell you how glad I am not to be there this winter, what with all the snow.” I am not going to talk about the snow. Mom had first said she wasn’t going to come either. She didn’t read either book (“they were boring!”) and invented some way in which she didn’t feel up to it. Norma wasn’t having any of Mom’s malady du jour, and talked her around.

We gathered in a local church parish hall, because everybody’s home driveways and walks are still too snow-covered for safe passage. You’ve probably heard about all the snow. I am not going to talk about it.

Meetings begin with Norma’s account of where everyone is and who hasn’t responded to her emails. Doris still hasn’t used her iPad. Jackie is still missing, though her leaf-covered car (isn’t it white? yes, but it was covered in leaves) was seen as recently as November. She is generally thought to be in Florida, possibly tending to a sister who is ill (didn’t her sister die? yes, but this is another sister). Sharon and Jack are still in California (and if everyone would get on Facebook, everyone would know that, but nobody wants to get on Facebook except Sharon. What’s the point? Can’t you do all that by email? Why do people feel they have to tell everyone everything? How can one have 407 friends?) Marilyn is in Florida and sent news of having dined with acquaintances of the Greenlaws. Nancy had a doctor’s appointment. (Who is her doctor? Who is your doctor? Which doctors are taking new patients? Doctors keep quitting because they’re treated like migrant workers picking peaches, and they didn’t go to medical school to pick peaches.)

We are six, then: Norma, Peggy, Betty, Helen, Mom, and me. We are waiting for Lillian, who is reportedly in the building. Norma calls her. A phone rings. Lillian arrives but she’s not joining us right away because she has to answer her phone. She answers it. It’s Norma, calling to find out where she is. She says she’s right here. They hang up. Lillian sits down.

Norma requests that we acknowledge having received her emails, even if we don’t have anything substantive to say in response. Everyone says we do that already. Norma says no you don’t.

Then, we begin to discuss the books. Which did you like best, asks Lillian. You’re supposed to say “better” if it’s only two choices, says Betty, then looks around the table, leaving the “am I right?” unspoken. Fine, then, which did you prefer? We are divided over Lifesaving Lessons. I wasn’t alone in thinking it read like an out-of-tune piano, but others loved every word. Appreciation for The Boys In The Boat was more universal. It’s nonfiction that reads like a novel. I compared it to Unbroken and was told The New York Times had said that already.

Next month’s meeting will be at Doris’s assisted living place, at 5 PM. (Isn’t that dinnertime? Will they let her miss dinner? Well, we will just wheel her out and wheel her back afterward, won’t we! Does she want us to do that? Nobody knows, but we assume so. How are we supposed to know, if she never responds to emails?)