by Jenna Drennen
It’s always a bit nerve-racking joining a new group or club. The uncertainty and stress associated with attempting inevitably awkward conversation with a room full of strangers can be a strong deterrent. I’ve often avoided organized social activities for this very reason and hesitated to get involved in community groups despite my interest in the content they explored. Three years ago, I stumbled across a post in my Facebook mom group seeking to put together a local book club, and despite my apprehension, I took a gamble and showed up at the agreed upon location. I’ve always been an avid reader and craved conversation with other women who not only enjoyed reading but were grounded in my community. Juggling the demands of work and parenthood can make finding time to read challenging, and this group appealed to my sense of accountability while offering the potential for new friendships.
As we sat around a stranger’s patio table on that warm spring evening, the tension was palpable. In showing up, each of us had pushed ourselves well outside of our comfort zone, but as we introduced ourselves and began to see how much we had in common, our anxiety began to dissipate. Despite our differences, our enthusiasm for literature began to unite us and drive our conversation, offering a familiar anchor in our potentially awkward dialogue. We set up a time to meet again, and I was thrilled to learn that the High Plains Library District (which includes the Carbon Valley Regional Library) offers a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction book bags available to check-out. These book bags catering to community book clubs make it easy and financially feasible to provide literature to the entire group and come complete with 12 books, a sign-out ledger, and discussion questions. As our group began to take shape, we slowly developed a sense of ease with each other, and this ease served as a seed as we cultivated lasting friendships. The rewards I’ve reaped from my time spent among these women are as diverse as they are numerous, and taking that initial gamble proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
In the early months, each of us contributed to the structuring of our club. We maintained communication and established our monthly events through a private Facebook group we created. We took turns selecting our monthly book selections, hosting the group at our houses, and providing potluck-style food and drinks for each event. We fell into an easy routine, and our monthly meetings quickly spread to encompass a range of other social activities. We enjoyed holiday get-togethers, paint and sip nights, and summer picnics as our bond grew. We frequently gathered to watch the movie adaptation of a book we recently read while raging at the inevitably inadequate and inferior film representation of the story. Some months we loved the book, and some months we hated it. Some months we explored and debated the content for hours, and other months none of us even managed to finish the book. Regardless, the benefits and lessons I began to gather from this group of women and the time we spent together flourished.
Prior to joining my book club, I had always found myself drawn to mystery novels and autobiographies. I love a good page-turner and relish a well-constructed twist ending. But as each member took a turn picking the book of the month, I was suddenly forced to explore genres I would never voluntarily select. To my surprise, I found myself completely captivated reading science fiction for the first time and moved to tears poring over an epic historical fiction novel. In exploring new types of literature outside of my comfort zone, I managed to cultivate a greater appreciation for many of these genres while often challenging the way I viewed the world. I was exposed to profoundly powerful new perspectives and a greater sense of cultural awareness. In gaining this awareness, I began to recognize that our monthly book clubs offered the benefits of structured learning, without the pressures of a formal school environment or a grading system. We were free to enjoy the intellectual stimulation our discussions offered while voicing our ideas in a relaxed atmosphere that included yummy snacks. I had the opportunity to boost my creative powers through our vast library of reading material and lively discussions. In doing so, I fine-tuned my own analytic and writing abilities.
As each of our book club members embarked on their own literary journey, our discussions became more complex and occasionally heated. Our time spent together honed our communication skills while offering practice in finding a balance between voicing our ideas while embracing new points of view. Although we frequently held differing opinions on a given subject, our established respect for one another and the format of our meetings encouraged an environment grounded in listening, discussing, and disagreeing without resorting to emotional arguments. As our group’s trust and ease solidified, the trajectory of our discussions encouraged honest and tactful debate.
The support system these women offered quickly transcended the literary arena and became more pronounced when Covid hit, and our worlds drastically changed. In March, our meetings temporarily moved to a virtual format, and in the summer months, we met in-person while socially distanced in each other’s backyards. As we all acutely felt the effects of the isolation, stress, and fear the pandemic propagated, our book club offered some much-needed social interaction and support during a uniquely difficult period. Despite the fact that the rest of our lives suddenly lacked structure and routine, we continued to select books and host meetings (albeit virtually) throughout the quarantine period. Our meetings offered each of us a bit of normalcy amidst the chaos. Continuing to assign books despite not being able to meet in-person propelled each of us to continue reading. In an environment conducive to apathy and malaise, the push to finish each book allowed me to keep a routine and stay goal-oriented. Research indicates that reading significantly reduces stress, and losing myself in a good book remained one of the few forms of self-care and relaxation I could still enjoy amidst a world that had shut down. It is often acknowledged that books allow us to travel without moving our feet. I credit the respite and escape I found in great literature and the support of the women in my book club with maintaining a bit of my sanity during this crazy time.
In a world characterized by divisiveness, literature maintains the power to unify us while giving us the time and space to locate the beauty that still exists. Sharing that literature with the women in my book club allowed me not only to see the beauty in the world but also in each other.
”That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.” -F.Scott Fitzgerald
Jenna lives in Firestone with her husband, two kids, and a house full of animals. She enjoys, running, gardening, and climbing mountains in her spare time.