Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Slice of Life - Book Clubs Can Prolong Your Life

I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.

     On Facebook, Cincinnati Public Library posted a link to a study recently that showed that belonging to social groups like book clubs is better for your health than exercise and can result in a longer, healthier life.  Well, that's good news!  I should live forever!  I have been a book club fanatic for a long time.

     It wasn't until my 30s, however, that I joined a real life book club.  Before that, I enjoyed Oprah's Book Club, started in September of 1996.  Books on that list that made an impression upon me included Midwives, The Deep End of the Ocean, Where the Heart Is, The Pilot's Wife, Gap Creek, Daughter of Fortune, Back Roads, While I Was Gone, The Poisonwood Bible, Fall On Your Knees, Icy Sparks, Stones from the River, Open HouseDrowning Ruth, and I Know This Much is True.  Some of these remain on my all-time favorite list.  I remember loving her book club shows in which she would gather a group of readers together with the author.  At the end of the show, she'd announce the next pick.  When she moved to her online 2.0 book club recently, I read a few of those. My favorites were Wild and The Invention of Wings.

     When my family moved to Pittsburgh in 1999 when I was in my 30s, after living our whole lives in Ohio, I joined a real life book club through the Newcomers Group in order to get to know people.  It was a fantastic book club.  We met in each other's homes, and again, I read some of my all-time favorite books in that club:  Traveling Mercies, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Kite Runner, Year of Wonders, The Red Tent, Their Eyes Were Watching God (which I also read in college), The Joy Luck Club, The Lovely BonesThe Secret Life of Bees, Bel Canto, Life of Pi, Shutter Island, The Dive From Clausen's Pier,  along with many more.  We had great discussions and food, and I did, indeed, get to know people, including my next door neighbor who became one of my best friends there. She and I tried to get a neighborhood book club together, and our first book for that was The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  This club did not thrive, but we read a few good books anyway:  The Time Traveler's Wife and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and My Sister's Keeper
     In 2004, we moved back to Ohio, and I attempted to keep the book club spirit alive by organizing my good friends together.  That was probably the most dysfunctional book club ever created - we all say so!  We have vastly different tastes in books and just couldn't bring ourselves to read each other's picks.   Even though this little book club disbanded (only the book club - we're still fast friends), we managed to make some memories that make us reminisce and laugh.  The picture at the top of the post was taken very soon after we had moved back to our hometown area and into our new house; our first book was Mercy by Jodi Picoult.  I also remember rereading Outlander for this club, and watching two movie versions of Pride and Prejudice for another meeting.  The funniest book read during this book club era was Lisa's pick, Lamb, by Christopher Moore.  

     After this club disbanded, I went looking for another.  One soon formed with some colleagues from school and a few of their friends.  Again, we met in each other's homes.  We read some good titles in this club, too: The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (much more literary than the title suggests), and The Snow Child were several.  I think we also read The Help during that time. That group has evolved over the years, but is still a current book club of mine.  One of the ways it's evolved is that we stopped meeting in each other's homes and started going out to dinner.  We were so happy not to have to clean our houses and make food!  Going to restaurants is much more relaxing at this stage in our lives.  Some recently read favorite titles include A Man Called Ove, The Nightingale, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Whistling Past the Graveyard, The Little Princes, and The Secret Keeper.
When I became a member of Lebanon Presbyterian Church when we moved back and wanted to become involved, one thing I did was co-lead a book club (of course).  Despite it being a church book club, we read a variety of genres and topics - not all spiritual.  However, one of our first picks was The Shack.  It was actually quite controversial, but I liked it.  I especially liked the portrayal of the Holy Spirt and her messy garden, which was seen as a perfect fractal from above.  I loved that metaphor.  I get that it was fictional and didn't necessarily represent scripture accurately, but it was an interesting way to look at the Trinity.  We read other titles like Same Kind of Different As Me,  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  This group is still meeting, but I've bowed out due to other commitments.
One year I took an Ohio Writing Project class called Teacher of Readers, and we read contemporary books, discussed them, wrote about them, and met the authors.  I was especially excited to meet Anne Lamott and Jodi Picoult - two book club favorite authors!

For school, I've led a variety of book clubs.  There have been Mock Newbery Clubs, Family Book Clubs, and small group book clubs for various unit theme topics.  Lots of pictures marking these books:

Most recent: Family Book Club Night discussing Out of My Mind

Family Book Club Night several years ago, featuring Wonder

Also several years ago; family book club day at Cincinnati Zoo, featuring The One and Only Ivan

Various Mock Newbery Book Clubs, meeting at school and at the library over the summer, and small book group clubs:



Because I love book clubs, I've started two new ones.  One is a girls' book club with my former students.  I taught them for three years and had a hard time saying goodbye, so I started a new one with them, now current 7th graders.  You can read about this book club here.

AND, I've started one with my ELA 5th and 6th grade colleagues, reading current middle grade books.  Our first one is PAX by Sara Pennypacker.  Stay tuned for a blog post on that one!

This turned out WAY longer and more involved than I planned.  As you can see, I'm planning a long and healthy life!

Also, I'm so excited about the Slice of Life March and Classroom Challenge, starting next Tuesday!!


  1. I love being part of a book club. I'm missing that right now. I'll have to go on a hunt to see if I can find one that will take me. I love the idea of having a book club with my former students. I might give that a try, too!

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    1. Take Two:

      It has always been my dream to belong to a bookclub. Your post speaks to their power. I've always wanted to find one, but maybe I just need to start one.

  3. So many of these books you've mentioned are favorites of mine! And the pictures of smiling book readers! And authors! Anne Lamott!! Oh Holly so much book love surrounds you. You've clearly made books such a special thing for your students and your friends. Thank you for sharing.
    PS You will love Pax

  4. Love this post full of book love! I've requested Pax. I've heard so many good things about it. And I'm getting ready to read A Night Divided (on our March Madness list). Our adult book club retreat is next weekend. I've read many of the books you mentioned. Congrats on your book club with former students. What a fun way to stay connected!

  5. Loved your list of all the titles you have read as part of book clubs. Some I have read but never as part of a book club. My book club experience is only with literature circles at school. I love these and all the books I have got to know because of it. Happy Reading!

  6. We miss you at the LPC Book Club! February's book was All The Light We Cannot See; March is Wild. A real treat was December--reading The 13th Gift and meeting with the author!

    1. Thanks, Nina - maybe someday I can join in again! You're reading some great titles! I've heard about The 13th Gift - how cool that you got to meet with the author!

  7. Book love! After many years of not having a book club, I am now in one and love it. So much to celebrate, Holly.

  8. The love of books is infectious, Holly. Thanks for sharing all the great titles.