The Book Group in Houston

I enter the room, happy to be back.  I missed this group of women when I moved to Singapore.  And now I miss the book group in Singapore.  That’s the way it goes.  But it’s nice to be greeted, good to know I’m welcome, and wonderful to see the familiar faces of people I like. 

Dorothy, the leader, opens the meeting with a few announcements.  Then she asks the women to go around the circle and give their names—this is for my benefit because I’ve forgotten some names, and a few new people have joined since I left.  Dorothy has kept the group organized for years.  She’s having an issue with her back these days, so she moves carefully.  Good luck with your exercises, Dorothy! 

Janet Knight is today’s discussion leader.  She lives a distance away, up near 290 and the Beltway, and we’re glad she makes the journey because her cheerful attitude sets a light tone.  Sitting next to her is her friend, Karen Johnson, a woman whose most outstanding attribute is that she’s always, without fail, an encouragement to others.  Karen has three young grandchildren—a little girl and a set of twins.  I try not to envy. 

Expedient and prepared, Janet produces a list of questions and gets started.  Most in the circle participate; a few are quiet.  I’m opinionated and must work to keep from dominating and criticizing—and from my perspective, there’s plenty to be critical about.  The last time I shared my observations about a reading group, the book under discussion was by Virginia Woolf, and I had fun writing in her style, which was innovative and florid, a joy to emulate.  It’d give balance if, for this posting, I could write in the style of the author of the book we’re discussing today, The Secret Keeper, but alas, the author, Kate Morton, has no discernible style, though plodding and explanatory come to mind.  Mind you, I’m only referring to bland vocabulary, boring sentence structure, and poor editing:  the story itself presents several clever plot twists and, though it carries no literary weight, it’s an entertaining read. 

There are fifteen around the table.  A couple of women haven’t read this month’s selection.  I’ll have to get used to that.  In Singapore, we gasped in horror if someone came and hadn’t read the book.  We were quite snooty about it.  But in this group you’re welcome whether you’ve read the book or not.  Because the group is affiliated with the church—St. Luke’s United Methodist—the women are kind and non-judgmental, which is easier for some than for others.  Most are pleased by The Secret Keeper, though there’s a general feeling that the characterization is weak:  only one of the characters is tolerable; several are inconsistent or unbelievable; and others are underdeveloped.  But realistically, the book droned on for five hundred and ninety pages; if the author had developed the characters further, we’d still be reading. 

Somewhere in the middle, and I’m not sure how, we get side-tracked, with women telling stories about how their parents met, about courtship during the war, and how our children need to know our stories.  The discussion becomes nostalgic.  There’s a fear that the past will be lost, that our children and their children will become loose leaves, without branches, without trees, without roots. 

And now I’ve lost track of the discussion. 

We come to a close by simply winding down.  I miss the rating system we used in Singapore, where at the end of the discussion we’d go around the circle and each person would give an assessment and designate a one-to-ten ranking.  I’d give this book a five—well-crafted plot, uninspired writing.  From the others’ comments, I estimate the average ranking would be eight.

During our time indoors the sky has become so dark it almost looks like night.  The thunder roars and booms.  The rain dumps from the sky, liquid turned solid.  I have no umbrella.  Linda Burch, who has an umbrella, is kind enough to offer a few of us rides to our cars.  She disappears into the dense wall of water and, a few minutes later, shows up in her car in the covered driveway, where two other women and I wait.  Thanks, Linda!

Out in the parking lot, she pulls up next to my car.  I unlock my front door by remote, from inside her car, and clamber out quickly—it’s a distance of only a few feet, but by the time I slip behind the wheel and close the door, I’m soaked to the skin, with water running in rivers from my head.  My hair, strictly disciplined earlier by about half a can of hairspray, is now the texture of matted cotton candy.  

Ladies, it’s good to be back, and it’s great to see you all.  We’re going to have an exceptional year. 

 Jane, Janet, Diane, and Karen.  We came a little early so we could have a gab.  

Jane, Janet, Diane, and Karen.  We came a little early so we could have a gab.  

 Sorry, Janet.  This is a lousy photo--I usually do better..  Though your eyes look closed, you're actually looking down at the book as you speak about it.

Sorry, Janet.  This is a lousy photo--I usually do better..  Though your eyes look closed, you're actually looking down at the book as you speak about it.

 This is Dorothy.  Though she's in pain with her back, she keeps smiling.  Recognize my purse on the table?  I've carried it everywhere for the last eight years.  

This is Dorothy.  Though she's in pain with her back, she keeps smiling.  Recognize my purse on the table?  I've carried it everywhere for the last eight years.  

 I was able to get almost the whole group.  The table isn't always present. 

I was able to get almost the whole group.  The table isn't always present.