Wednesday, November 6, 2013

What are you reading?

That's the question we ask at my two monthly book clubs: one of mostly Shelby County women and the other of my going-on-thirty-years book club, whose members include my oldest and dearest friends.

That's also the question that is central to Will Schwalbe's book: The End of Your Life Book Club. I just finished this story of a son and his mother, who start a book club (of just the two of them) that brings them together as her life comes to a close. I had owned the book for nearly a year. I think Ed gave it to me for Christmas or my January birthday, but it sat patiently on my bedside cabinet until I was ready for it. I had skimmed the book jacket and was afraid the book would be morbid or too sad. It was neither.

The book is organized chronologically over a two-year period based on discussions of dozens of books Will and Mary Ann Schwalbe read as they sat in waiting rooms for her cancer treatments and doctors' appointments. Both are passionate readers and their conversations about books are both wide-ranging and deeply personal. I knew from page one that I was going to fall in love with this book; the title of the first chapter is Crossing to Safety and refers to Wallace Stegner's 1987 novel that traces the lives, loves and aspirations of two couples over their lifelong friendship, taking the reader right to old age and death. The novel starts out in Madison, Wisconsin, a city near and dear to my heart. It is my favorite book. The last book they discuss is Nobel Prize Winner Alice Munro's Too Much Happiness, another of my favorites. In between, they discuss books I know, as well as a number that I had not heard of, but will add to my must-read list.

Reading has always been an important part of my life. By the end of third grade I had read every book of fiction in my tiny elementary school library. My mom became so worried that I wasn't making friends that she tore up my library card, a most tragic day for me.

I read recently that 80% of U.S. families did not buy a book this year and that 42% of college graduates will never read a book after they graduate. According to a Wall Street Journal article some 59 percent of Americans don't own a book – not a cookbook or even the Bible. These statistics amaze me. I can't imagine a day passing without reading – blogs, newspapers, books, magazines – whatever I can get my hands on. Our home is filled with hundreds of books -- a stack by my bedside, unread books and poetry in the study, hardback books of our favorite authors in the living room, cookbooks in the kitchen, reference/travel and children's books in the upstairs loft, paperbacks in the cottage.

Author Anna Quindlen notes that those who read because they love it more than anything "feel about bookstores the way some people feel about jewelers." I agree. I'd much rather spend an hour in Carmichael's Bookstore on Frankfort Avenue than at Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue.

I get a kick from reading books, but part of the fun is discussing them. My dear friend Jane works in a bookstore in northeast Ohio, and we spend part of every phone call discussing what we've recently read. My Louisville book club, founded when I was just a year or two out of college, matters much to me. Not only do we discuss a book each month, we talk about all the other things going on in our lives -- celebrating the joys and commiserating with the sorrows.

When we moved out to Farm Dover, I joined another book club. Instead of reviewing just one book each month, we each, in turn, talk about what we've read that month, trading books back and forth. I can't begin to keep up with most of these avid readers, but I always like to hear what books are in their stacks. (Plus, the potluck lunch is always a treat.)

There is nothing I like better than losing myself in a good book on a rainy afternoon. Maureen Corrigan, NPR book critic, and author of Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books, explains her love of reading this way: “It's not that I don't like people. It's just that when I'm in the company of others - even my nearest and dearest - there always comes a moment when I'd rather be reading a book.” I know what she means.

So, what are you reading?


  1. Look forward to reading this! And others. Have you read 'The Boys in the Boat' about the men's Olympic rowing team? Also, "The Power of One" is a great read. One of my all time favorites is "Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follett. Talk about getting lost in a book. Hope all is well!

  2. I'll add "The Boys in the Boat" and "The Power of One" to my list. I read "Pillars of the Earth" a long time ago and then Ed and I rented the video (TV mini-series) from the library last year. Happy reading.