There was a time a few years back after my youngest left for college that I had more free time than I knew what to do with.
At first it felt luxurious. I read books that had been on my nightstand for years, discovered the intimacy of small theater at Stageworks, and took my dogs on long walks morning and night.
Since most of my longtime friends were still busy raising children and had little time to join me on my outings, I began to look for new friends.
I soon found that making new friends was not as easy as I presumed. Most people, I discovered, are content with the friends they’ve had for years and do not have the time or the desire to invest in new friendships.
So I decided to advertise for new friends — under the auspices of launching a book club. I ran a small ad in the classified section of The Laker/Lutz News and soon recruited a small group of women to meet once a month to talk about books.
In February, it will be four years since our first meeting, and our club is still going strong. We are nine women, small by book club standards, but all have been members for at least two years and we’re committed to reading that month’s book and come prepared to discuss it.
Together we have sliced and diced close to 50 books. Everything from Stephen King’s “11/23/63,” a 1,000-page science-fiction thriller that postulates what the world would be like today if Kennedy had not been assassinated, to “Tinkers” by Paul Harding, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about a dying man’s reflection of his life as a clock repairer in rural Maine.
My book club has exposed me to genres I never would have considered. I still can’t believe I read Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander,” the first book of her immensely popular historical romance series and the first romance novel I ever read.
And, as I had hoped, it wasn’t long before book club members became my friends. Our two-hour meeting soon stretched to three as we spent the first hour catching up on each other’s lives.
We’ve helped each other through transitions common to women in mid life — the pride we feel as our children graduate from high school and college, and the sense of emptiness we feel when they move out. The excitement of searching and moving to a new house as we downsize. The agony of divorce and the exploration of dating. The birth of grandchildren. The satisfactions and frustrations of our jobs, where we have labored for so many years.
Our discussions, both personal and those about the books we read, are lively because we share our diverse experiences and different perspectives.
We range from our early 40s to mid-60s. We include a postal worker, college career counselor, retired librarian, surgical nurse, paralegal, newspaper publisher, social worker and two therapists.
Most of us are mothers. Some are grandmothers and one a great grandmother. Two never had children. Most of us live in Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes, but others live as far away as downtown St. Petersburg.
Each month we come together, gathering at a different member’s home, with the host choosing that month’s book.
I’ve just finished reading our November book, Elizabeth Gilbert’s much-awaited new novel, “A Signature of All Things.” Trust me when I tell you this book is as much unlike “Eat, Pray, Love” as you can imagine. I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Interestingly, my book club friends are just that. Book club friends. We seldom get together outside of our monthly meeting for the same reason I found when I began my search for new friends — our lives outside of work are filled with family obligations and activities with friends we’ve had for years.
But that’s OK.
The three hours we spend together each month give us the time we need to share our love for reading, and to nourish the friendships we never would have had without our book club.
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