Not Just For Little Old Ladies

I belong to a book club. We meet once a month at someone’s house, and we talk about a particular book.  I love it!  Everyone has her favorites, and my list of “want to read” books just keeps growing.  We usually do fiction, but once in a while we’ll do a memoir or a biography.

Our group is called “The Flippin’ Pages Book Club,” and the conversation always takes off. Young or old(er), everyone has something to say. That might be what I enjoy the most . . . hearing the thoughts of young women, what they read, what they want in a book . . .  and then hearing the thoughts of older women who’ve been reading for decades. 

We all like a good story, but there seem to be some generational preferences. Here’s an example. We read Catherine Marshall’s Christy. This is an old book now.  It came out in 1967 and my paperback copy is 558 pages of small print.  It’s lush. It’s descriptive. It’s rich in detail . . . or . . . It’s slow. It’s repetitious. It’s too long.  We all agreed it’s a great story, but we have definite preferences in writing style.

This month we read Till We Reach Home by Lynn Austin. This is the story of three sisters who emigrate from Sweden to the United States and Chicago in particular. This was a fun book for me personally, because “Bylin” is a Swedish name. Just like these sisters, my great grandparents came from Sweden and settled in Chicago. We had a good time talking about the story, particularly how the sisters related to each other. I love how a good story can open doors to personal exchanges.

All this got me thinking about the history of book clubs. They go back a lot further than Oprah. (I wish she’d do a western), and they have their roots in the upper classes where people had access to books and education.  Men started the trend in the eighteenth century, but women followed with their own groups. While sewing circles and similar activities gave women a chance to socialize, book clubs gave them a place to express opinions on the politics and events of their time.

As public education took root and literacy spread across America, book clubs grew in number and popularity. Access to more reading materials through public libraries gave readers everywhere the opportunity to enjoy a good book. For me, the most natural thing in the word is to talk about what I’ve been reading.  Book clubs give us that opportunity.

Has anyone else read Helen Hooven Santmyer’s The Ladies of the Club?  The story is set in a small Ohio town and is about the comings-and-goings of the members of a ladies book club from 1868 to 1932. It was first published in 1982 and republished in 1984 when it was selected for The Book of the Month Club.   It’s a huge book–over 1,100 pages–and it took Ms. Santmyer–a college professor–more than 50 years to write.  She was 88 years old and living in a retirement home when she sold.  Writers talk often about getting “the call,” that moment when you sell your first book.  Can you just see the look on Ms. Santmyer’s elderly face?  I wonder if she got up and did a jig?

The Outlaw’s Return is available now at Amazon.

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Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

24 thoughts on “Not Just For Little Old Ladies”

  1. Still sighing over that gorgeous cover, Vicki. It’s breathtaking.
    I confess I’ve never been in a book club, although they’re a great idea. I tend to read different books in different parts of the house, and my tastes in literature are all over the place, none of which lends itself to bookclubbing.
    Didn’t read THE LADIES OF THE CLUB, but I remember it well. Hope Ms. Santmyer lived to enjoy her royalties for a while.
    Thanks for a great blog.

  2. P.S. Come to think of it, I’m in a two-person book club. My boyfriend is a book junkie and we tend to like the same things so we trade back and forth and discuss what we’ve read. Currently reading EVERYDAY HEROES by Scott Turow.

    And if Oprah recommended a western it would be one where everybody dies in the end.
    🙂

  3. Hi Elizabeth, That’s so true about the Oprah books! I’ve read one and then half of another. The one I read was just . . . sad. I like my happily ever afters, mostly because I believe in them. That’s not necessary a romantic HEA, either. It’s individuals learning to be content and love and appreciate each other.

  4. I’ve never been in a book club either, but my problem is the opposite of Elizibeth’s. My reading preferences are too narrow. All I read are historical romance novels. I get my variety with different time periods and going from inspirationals to general market reads. I’ve yet to find a book club willing to narrow their focus to such an extent. I have found a few online groups that specialize in historical fiction and I enjoy chatting with them, but it’s not the same in-depth interraction that I imagine could be found in a book club.

  5. Hi Karen, The Flippin’ Pages Book Club started with primarily historical romance, but it branched out as more people made suggestions. We’ve ever done some horror fiction, which is definitely not my thing, but I’m glad for the insight into the genre. My favorites, though, are always the romances.

  6. Every once in a while I manage to sneak a romantic book into our book club but they like their tragedy. So I picked Cleopatra, the new biography and that should get them talking. I am thinking I am going to try to get them to go nonfiction again with Cinderella Ate My Daughter.

    Some people I know are in several book clubs just to get the variety they crave.

    Great post! Thanks, Julie

  7. Vicki, how neat to belong to a book club. Those used to be all the rage but they’ve kinda went by the wayside because people are too busy to mess with them. I didn’t know women in the 1800’s joined book clubs. I can imagine how important it was to be able to voice an opinion on different subjects since women had so little rights back then.

    Love the cover to your new book. It’s really nice. The dog adds a lot to it. There’s something about a man and his dog that draws you. The guy looks so lonesome and I can feel his yearning for companionship. Hope the book does very well.

  8. hi Vicki, great post. Christy is one of my all-time favorites. I will never forget “Fairlight”, her dear friend. What a pretty name. And of course, Christy is my daughter’s name LOL. (although sh eeventulaly evolved it to end with an i.)

    I never had a book club like this, but in a writing seminar I took once, we read DH Lawrence’s The Rainbow. My critique was all the headhopping!

    I remember hearing about Santmyer’s book and her advanced age. What a highlight of a long life. Never give up!

    Most of all, I so love Fancy Girl. What a wonderful idea to make a dog a character. Hope you have a ton of sales. oxoxox

  9. OMG! There is hope for me yet. If Ms Santmyer finally sold at 88–I’m 76 and can’t sell at the present. I will keep plogging along, though. Being retired and living in a very rural area of California, what else can I do? We have tried a book club in my town, but after 3 sessions it pooped out. However, 60 miles north there is a writer’s group. I went for about a year, but winter snow and late nights to drive when I’m already tired isn’t too good.
    Book clubs are still a great idea.

  10. Hi Vicki!

    What an outstanding cover. Sigh… I’m not part of a book club because I’ve been scammed in the past, sorry to say.

    But I do buy my own books and read and read and read.

    Great post.

  11. This actually makes me jealous…and a little cranky. I want a book club!!!!

    I would love that.

    But there is NOTHING around here and no, I don’t want to start one.

    That seems hard.

    Plus if I started a book club, I think I’d have to insist they all read only my books. I have a bad feeling about how that would go.

    I know of only one book club in the area. And I havent’ heard much about that for years. I suspect the members have all died by now.

  12. Hi Linda, There’s definitely a lot of competition for our time, a lot more than 50 or even 20 years ago. We’ve got internet, movies on demand, TV, books, video games and free long distance. There aren’t enough hours in the day for all the things I like to do . . . unless I skip all housework 🙂

  13. Hi Tanya, Re-reading “Christy” was a neat experience. I was 13 when I read it the first time, and I read it twice back-to-back. This last time I enjoyed it every bit as much, even more. I read it after a trip to Gatlinburg in the Great Smoky Mountains, so the descriptions were alive. The friendship with Fairlight Spencer really is emotional. P.S. I’m smiling about DH Lawrence and head-hopping!

  14. Hello Mary J, You bet there’s hope! Keep writing! The story about Helen Hooven Santmyer is inspiring for all of us. Fifty years on one book . . . Fifty years with the same characters, growing with them, changing them and tweaking the plot . . . I can’t imagine! It takes me about 6 months to do 75,000 words and then I’m ready to do something new.

  15. Hi Karen, I’ve belonged to a few “Book of the Month” type clubs, but they didn’t work out for me. This is a group of women who meet and we pick the book we want to read. Some of us buy it. Some get it from the library. It’s always fun to see what’s next.

  16. Hi Mary! You could start the “Mary Connealy ‘Read My Book Or Else’ Club!” I bet you could spin it into a murder mystery . . . Book Club ladies disappear one by one . . . Oh, wait. Didn’t Agatha Christie do this?

  17. I’m in a two-person book club too. My mom and I love to talk over a book when we’ve both read it. A year or two ago we both read Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina at the same time (sharing a copy, too!) and we had such a great time discussing it. Now I’m urging her to read War and Peace so we can do it again.

  18. I was in the process of starting a book club at the library where I worked when I lost my job. I am looking for a book club that is a good discussion group now. I enjoyed working at the library because it gave me an opportunity to discuss books with patrons, recommend new authors and books to them, and order books I think our patrons would like. I really miss it.

    I was looking at Elizabeth’s comment. I enjoy discussing books with my husband, unfortunately, he doesn’t have much time to read. Audio books have been wonderful, for both of us.

    Great cover for THE OUTLAW’S RETURN.

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