It’s that time of month again. My book group meets today and I’ve yet to finish the book. But I’ll still attend and look forward to it. I’ve been in a total of five book groups over the last 13 years. My first was my mother’s neighborhood book group and this last one is one I helped found through my local National Council of Jewish Women section. (We read a wide variety of subjects, not just Jewish ones.)
Before I joined my first book group, I’d never heard of the concept. My mom wasn’t in one when I was growing up, although she has always been a voracious reader, often plowing through 4-5 books a week. I assumed they were a 21st century phenomenon.
But yesterday my grandmother set me straight.
In the 1960s, my grandma was in a book group in her suburban Chicago town, only back then it wasn’t a Chicago suburb. She lives in a small city halfway between Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.
There weren’t many Jews in that town, so the ones who lived there all knew each other. My grandma and her Jewish women friends had a book group and it was serious stuff. Nothing like the wine and dine variety I’ve been a part of.
Each month one of the women would host lunch at her house and would review their chosen book. Then the women would discuss the book. At some point in the 1960s, the members decided to hire a professional reviewer. And this was no easy feat.
A couple of the women would drive all the way into Chicago (taking more than an hour each way) to pick up their reviewer, the wife of a Chicago attorney. This paid reviewer also worked for book groups across Chicago’s glitzy North Shore. Once back in my grandma’s town, the women would gather for lunch. The reviewer would begin with a 20-minute news recap. My grandma said the reviewer (whose name escapes her now) was feisty and progressive and marched on Washington for civil rights.
After the news update, she would review their book of the month, and a discussion would follow. A couple of members would drive the reviewer back to Chicago at the conclusion of the meeting. In total, members would spend more than four hours on the road each meeting all for the good of the book group!
My grandma, who is 97 now, doesn’t remember why the group disbanded. But what’s more important is that she has very fond memories of those years and how serious she and her friends took their book group.