My heart leapt when I saw the results of a recent survey of American readers.
   The bad news is that too many of us do not read much of anything and actually ‘fessed up to reading no books, poems or plays whatsoever last year. The good news, though, is that after a two-decade or so decline in American reading, we are now on an upswing, however slight.
   As a girl who read books with a flashlight under the bedcovers until her mother caught her and as an adult who savors few joys more than a good novel, I wish I could convince everyone — especially young folks — that reading is both a learning tool and a profound pleasure. Chances are, since you picked up the Up and Coming Weekly and are reading this column, that you share my conviction.
   I am a founding member — the only one of three left — of a book club which took shape almost two decades ago at a holiday gathering for the Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County. We call it Funky Book Club, because that is what it is. Ours is a most eclectic group of people, both men and women, who might not encounter each other in any other context. Over the life of FBC, our members have included lawyers, homemakers, psychologists, business owners, teachers, engineers and nonprofit directors — each one an inquiring reader and unique and interesting human being.
   We love our books, and we love each other.
   Apparently, we are not typical.         
   {mosimage}A recent article in the New York Times made me realize how fortunate we FBC members are. According to the Times’ Joanne Kaufman, book clubs abound in the United States, and their numbers actually increase during tough economic times as inexpensive social outlets. Most book clubs are women only, the social descendants of sewing circles, and, increasingly, as in many other aspects of 21st century life, more and more are online book clubs where members never have to interact with each other in person.
   All that being said, not all book club members seem as compatible as the folks in FBC.  Kaufman reports that some book clubs can become so contentious over what books to read and related issues — Oprah picks or no Oprah picks, classics or pop lit, wine or no wine, terse and pithy comments vs. the club rambler — that a new occupation has been created. Esther Bushell of New York is one such facilitator and leads about a dozen suburban book groups for an impressive $250-300 per member, per year. I am confident in saying that FBC members would hoot at such a notion, but Bushell, like others in her field, are hired to keep long-winded and opinionated book clubbers under control without sparking World War III. Some book clubs may welcome such professional assistance, but FBC members have not been shy about squelching those among us who talk too much. We just talk even more until he or she gets the point and laughs. I have felt blessed to be part of FBC since its beginnings, and the Times piece has only reinforced that. Each member, past and present, has enriched us as individuals and as a group, and we miss those who have moved on — among them, one to become a New York attorney, several psychologists, a law professor, and a longtime        Fayetteville resident who sold her business and packed up for a new marriage in the wild west.     
   Together we have read and tried to help each other comprehend great works of literature from different times and faraway places, and we have obsessed about OJ Simpson and tried to help each other understand that and all its repercussions as well. We have watched movies to accompany our books. We have laughed together at every single meeting. We have shed the occasional tear and, rarely, shared the deep, dark secrets of our souls.
   Over the years, too, we have held hands over the death of a spouse, mourned life changes that took members away from this community, watched each other’s children grow up and move into their own lives, suffered through divorce and just last year attended a happy remarriage, celebrated job triumphs and commiserated over job woes, and have generally taken pleasure in each other’s company once a month for all these many years.      
   In these tough times when all of us are tightening our belts in many ways, very likely including our entertainment dollars, I am not surprised to learn that book clubs are booming. They offer social outlets and, if you are lucky, something to chew on intellectually. They can be as structured and as rule-driven as a group wants them to be, or they can be as freewheeling as Funky Book Club, whose only rule is that you do not have to have read the book to attend the meeting.   
   I certainly wish Esther Bushell well with her book club facilitating business in New York, but I do not think FBC will be needing her services any time soon.

Contact Margaret Dickson at editor@upandcomingweekly.com

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