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PO Box 858 Firestone, CO 80520

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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.‬