A new venture

We started a new book club in the Tobacco Valley.  It’s called the Open Book Club because you don’t have to RSVP to attend. You just have to read the book and show up to talk about it at HA Brewery. Okay…so maybe there are a few more suggestions.  You should show up by 2:00pm when it starts and only one person talks at a time.  No doubt this is something many of us heard growing up (“Let them finish – don’t interrupt”). When there is a group discussion, listen to the person talking before adding your ideas.  img_0840

Today was the first meeting and it did go well.  People showed up and we had a great conversation. The book was Ivan Doig’s The Sea Runners which seemed like the ideal story to begin a new venture with.  We set out without knowing exactly where we were going.  No idea what we might run into. None of us knew who might be there to take part.  Eight readers showed up for this first one – a hearty group to begin the adventure.  At the end of the discussion, different individuals took on a month they will be responsible for. This means selecting the book and promising to be there for that month’s discussion.

This is an interesting community activity I hope other communities are trying.  It might be easy to have a book club where we know each other well like an old shoe.  Its comfortable. You know what to expect. But an Open Book Club where you aren’t really sure what the person sitting next to you thinks – helps push the envelope on communication skills.  And perhaps it brings up ideas you hadn’t considered. The people at the table aren’t old friends you met with monthly for years, but whoever wanted to talk about Doig’s book this particular Sunday afternoon.  One woman at today’s gathering brought a marine atlas so we could look at Canada’s western coastline to better imagine what the men faced as they canoed from Alaska to Oregon.

I already look forward to next month.

Feb 17: Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor by Hali Felt (Collins)

March 17: White Waters and Black by Gordon MacCreagh (Schloeder)

April 21: Utopia by Thomas More (Elrod)

May 19:  Devotion: An Epic Story of Heroism, Friendship and Sacrifice by Adam Makos (Hvizdak))

June 16: The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow (Gill)

July 21: East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Hindle)



Stand up

I am traveling.  Currently traveling without the bookstore as I am on the other side of the ocean.  Regardless of where I am, there are opportunities to meet good people, to have thought provoking encounters.  Recently a juxtaposition of conversations pushed me to examine the expectations I hold and the impatience I often feel these days.96FFE953-152D-4015-87AF-E268C380881F

I met a social activist in Brno, Czech Republic.  She is heartedly involved in local politics, searching out how to improve services for older people, and helping with ways to feed the homeless in her city among other causes she is involved with. During our conversation I was inspired and relieved that this person was trying so hard to improve the quality of life for people in her extended community.

There are others I conversed with on this trip.  Some people teach school, others raise families, or are artists, or work in IT, or are retired.  Some volunteer at summer camps and others help in prisons in their spare time, while some put together community theater after day jobs. Is there any particular work or community service that is better than another?  Surely there is a need in every place for carpenters, cooks, shop assistants, musicians, doctors, welders, and teachers.  And thus there must also be a need for the various ways people freely contribute to their community.  Scout leaders, hospice volunteers, parents who help at schools, individuals who donate to the arts, drivers for Meals on Wheels, people who write letters to elected officials, and those who take to the streets to counter injustice.

I want every individual to give to their community in a meaningful way.  Some religions encourage tithing a percentage of income. Is it unrealistic to ask people to tithe a percentage of time? And what age should we begin?  In one conversation recently, a young man told me he didn’t volunteer but tried to live a caring life helping his friends.  Another person said she didn’t volunteer but was working to raise her children well.  That her contribution to the larger community would be these two children who grew up polite, creative, thoughtful.  These answers challenged my hope we can be caring to those in our immediate circle and help improve the greater community as well. Is this expecting too much?  Can a parent who has skills to raise children give four hours a week to help other children in an after school program or work towards improving state or federal education policy? Can the man who cares about his friends donate time at a homeless shelter or become involved with NAMI? Over the last few years, a number of individuals and groups began to provide accessible ways to make a difference without leaving home.  Jen Hoffman’s Americans of Conscience Checklist is one.

Yes, we can have meaningful conversations, care for our children, help our friends. But these are very much within the context of our community, our state, our country.  Our efforts need to include this context if we truly care about anyone.


Book clubs

It started when two Czech friends happened to visit around the time my local book club was going to meet.  The two young women had enough time (and enough English) to read the month’s selection and attend; A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman and of course this group in Eureka does it up right. The woman who hosted the book club in September prepared a delicious Iranian meal.  We had a very good discussion and towards the end of the evening, one of the Czech women lamented it was too bad there weren’t book clubs like this in her country.  I felt surely there must be but when we did a cursory GooglIMG_1468e search as one tends to do when such questions are posed, we saw book clubs aren’t nearly the phenomena in the Czech Republic that they are in the US.

While looking at articles and such about book clubs in other places, I read about book clubs in the US, the millions of members and wide variety that have developed here over the years.  I realized this was a force to be considered.  Not that the demographics are identical across book clubs or even within book clubs. Actually it is one of the factors that makes the local book club here so awesome – we have a variety of political views, religions, ages and formal education, and yet we manage to have respectful discussions on all sorts of topics ranging from marriage to immigration to education to death.  There is a core element that keeps us meeting (this club started back in the mid 1990s!).  Perhaps its the thirst to learn, a love for reading and an interest in sharing ideas.

Recently while attending a Humanities Montana meeting, the idea was raised to find ways to exchange information across book clubs.  I realized this was a great idea but how many book clubs have a public presence to make something like this viable?  I began to ask around.  Most book clubs don’t even seem to have a name.  One woman who belongs to three clubs described them as the one that meets the first Tuesday and then there is the library one and….  And even with a name, how would they be contacted? In many ways this makes the phenomena of book clubs even more remarkable.  They aren’t often started by a formal entity although there are plenty that take place in libraries and bookstores.  They don’t usually have a name, tax ID number or even a web presence (some do seem to use Facebook for exchanging information).  So here is this significant group, millions and millions of readers according to some studies, who attend book clubs, who are able to hold civilized discussions and there isn’t an easy way to track them down.  Despite this, I believe book clubs make a significant difference.  Not only do they help book sales, they enhance communication in communities, they provide a vehicle for people to share stories and views.  They help us think and, yes, they give light on others’ points of view.