You expect to find book clubs in Oak Park. I mean, a community with a 4-star library must nurture readers. Last week I was invited to attend the January meeting of A Slice of Life Book Club and was able to get a sense of the reasons that these twenty-some women continue to come together after over two decades. They could not put an exact date on how long they have been reading together but it has been a long time.
I asked what keeps them coming back and one member shouted out, “Good food!” That night there was an array of fruit and desserts. Sometimes the hostess provides Cincinnati Chili, or a tea, or a holiday dinner. “It gives us extra time to be together,” explained another member. “In the summer we meet once at a cottage by the lake, and sometimes we have meetings themed to match the book we’re reading.” Thus, there was a tea when they read, “Three Cups of Tea.”
There are about 10 meetings a year and the books to be read are chosen at a summer meeting based on the recommendations of the members. Most of the books are fiction, but they chose at least one biography, one non-fiction and a young adult book for diversity. They do not usually read best-sellers but go for something a bit off-beat and they wait until a title comes out in paperback or is available in the library.
The non-fiction book on their list this year is by an Oak Park author, David Ansell. He wrote “County: Life, Death, and Politics at Chicago’s Public Hospital,” which I reviewed earlier this year in this blog. I hope they don’t plan to cater in hospital food for that one. They also plan to read about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway in “The Paris Wife,” by Paula McClain. It has received wildly divergent reviews, so it would be interesting to see what these very smart women have to say about it.
I asked them how they started the group. Apparently there were several moms who had children in swimming. “You get bored watching them swim back and forth, so you start to talk about other things and it evolved from that.” The members have ties to many Oak Park and River Forest institutions. Many have been teachers at OPRF, members of St. Giles Church or Fair Oak Presbyterian Church. They all started as local people but have become more far-flung over the years. One woman drives in from Indiana and another from Elmhurst.
It’s obvious that the women enjoy one another. The chatter and side conversations was dizzying to someone who was unfamiliar with the group. However, they were amazingly welcoming and very willing to share.
This meeting was to discuss “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. Not everyone had read the entire book but those who had gave a synopsis of the plot. Then there was spirited discussion of the ethical quandaries presented in the book, such as how much interference in primitive people’s lives is permissible. (That remained unresolved) There is a search for a fertility drug, since apparently the women in this Amazon tribe remained able to conceive up into their 70’s and there was discussion about whether that was a good thing. (There were feelings on both sides on that issue)
The reactions of the readers to the book were all over the place. Some liked it, some found it slow moving, some felt the main character was incomplete, others thought the author was a great writer. It was invigorating to listen to people who care about words, plots, characters and each other. The food was pretty good too.