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Published October 15, 2019

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

Next chapter: A book club

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

Pssst!

I have a secret for you. But don’t tell anyone, particularly my male friends.

I recently joined a book club at the Pearland Westside Library. It’s all women. Only my wife knows.

Rumors persist there are other male members, but none has checked in. It’s just me for the moment.

Furthermore, I confess that one of the book club selections – “American Marriage” – appears on Oprah’s must-read list. I hope I don’t lose my manhood card for reading it.

If you had told me seven years ago I would spend even a second of retirement in a book club, I would tell you to sober up. No way.

Regular readers of my column, if there are any, know my story. I came down with a rare spinal disorder that left me paralyzed and in a wheelchair. No more tennis tournaments, biking, jogging or running around with the grandkids.

Doctors at TIRR Memorial Hermann stressed that it would be important to stay active and that I would need to find new activities.

Since I don’t think sitting in my recliner watching Astros games counts as a new activity, I joined the book club. I am glad I did.
A Pew Research Center study quoted in the New York Times found that 11 percent of Americans were active in “literary discussion or study groups such as books clubs” and that women were more than twice as likely to take part in such gatherings as men.

An Internet search found all kinds of women’s book clubs in the Houston area. There’s the Houston Women’s Book Club with 2,457 members, the Sassy Women’s Book Club with 430 members and the Black Girls Social Club – Brunch, Booze and Books with 165 members.

There are male book clubs. The Times noted that some all-male book clubs seem to have an outsized need to proclaim their masculinity.

A book club in Marin County, Calif. calls itself the Man Book Club, for instance.

The group, according to the Times, expresses its notion of manliness through the works it chooses to read. “We do not read so-called chick lit,” one member said. “The main character cannot be a woman.”

This is emphasized on the club’s website: “No books by women about women (our cardinal rule).

In the Houston area, there is the Drunk History Book Club with 43 members. The group selects a history book once a month and a local watering hole for a discussion. The title sounds gender-neutral, but I bet it has more than a few male members.

The book club I joined out of convenience is not designed to be exclusively for women, but the book selections do have a slightly female bent since the group has input in the selections.

I can say unequivocally that I wouldn’t have decided on my own to read any of the four books I have read so far.

But that is a major reason I am glad I joined. I needed to change my literary diet. A guy can read only so many novels by John Grisham, James Patterson or Tom Clancy.

One big advantage of the book club is that the monthly meeting to review that month’s book serves as a deadline. Reading two pages then falling asleep with the book on your chest just won’t cut it in this group.

My first monthly meeting was surprisingly lively. That month’s book, “The Hate U Give,” explored race and police. Several members shared their experiences.

The most recent book club selection was “The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu.” This non-fiction book describes how a group of librarians raced to save precious centuries-old texts from destruction by Al Qaeda and other terrorists.

It’s not exactly a page-turner, but I can’t wait for the next time someone mentions Timbuktu in conversation.

Boy, the things I know about the history of that fabled African city.

I have enjoyed the book club and will stay with it for a while. I may, however, need to skip next month’s book. Nelson DeMille has a new ripped-from-the-headlines thriller coming out.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com)