Martin Cahill is a writer working in Manhattan and living in Astoria, Queens. He is a graduate of the 2014 Clarion Writers’ Workshop and a member of the New York City based writing group, Altered Fluid. He has had fiction published in Fireside Fiction, Nightmare Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Shimmer Magazine. Martin also writes non-fiction reviews, articles, and essays for Tor.com, the Barnes & Noble Sci-fi and Fantasy Blog, and Strange Horizons.
Twitter Handle: @McflyCahill90
I’ve always a been a solitary reader. Books and I had a relationship that began on page one and ended at the back cover; no one else really entered into that equation. And that’s okay, right? For a kid that found solace with Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin, who felt more at home at Redwall Abbey, who pretended he was Spider-Man because reading was an escape from being bullied and belittled and filled with doubt. Reading was not only being shown a door, but given the key; although the frame is only so large. Reading, as far as I knew, was a one-way trip; a street of my own in a bustling metropolitan of other readers, with their own doors and streets and passages; carved out and paved and built brick by brick on their own, in their own ways. I didn’t know that those roads could connect.
Or rather, I didn’t know how they could. I knew of book clubs and while I loved them in theory, I never felt myself gravitating towards any. What, you all read a book together, and then get together and talk about that book? Sure, sounds good. Except this is why you have Twitter, and texting, and email; this is why you grab drinks with friends and unreservedly talk about the new Vandermeer or Van Der Burg or Valente or LaValle like others catch up about movies or sports. Before I entered into one, I didn’t understand that a book club could be a sacred space, and one ready for me, should I wish to enter.
And luckily, I did. A few friends had a Feminist Book Club, where they met every month or so; they were reading Carmen Maria Machado’s incredible short story collection Her Body And Other Parties, which I had read and adored. My friends invited me, and I accepted, glad but nervous. Reading had always been an escape, solitary, a light for myself alone. What would I do at this book club? What were the rules? How do we talk about this together?
So I arrived early. There were greetings, smiles, cheese plates, wine, and snacks. There was small talk, what are you reading these days, oh yeah, I saw that on Twitter, can you believe that they said that? And then at a certain point, we all sat down around the living room, and started. Like a flower unfurling, it was organic; the transition to talk of narrative, of Machado’s incredible stories, of our thoughts and opinions. It happened like a bonfire catching, except we had all provided just a little mote of fuel, together.
And I was still nervous, as we all went around, talking about this important collection, and how it affected us. People opened up about themselves, their lives, their past traumas and current struggles; in a room where I didn’t know many people, this short story collection we were discussing became an emotional shorthand; together, through the lens of this collection we all connected with, it became easier to talk; to open up and unfurl myself. I had never experienced this sort of intimacy through a book discussion before. I opened up, too; I talked about what I loved in this book, my favorite stories, my own past emotional abuse and trauma, what I had been working on in therapy. Everyone listened, and made space for me, as I listened and made space for them. We worked in concert to untangle what this book meant to us. It was exhilarating and a small part of me said in the back of my mind, “I can’t believe we’ve been missing out like this.”
Reading can be solitary, but it doesn’t have to be. I still love reading on my own, and experiencing that journey by myself. But there is a certain magic to taking that journey with others, and knowing at the end, you can all pause, take a breath, and discuss what you all saw together. This first time in a book club opened my eyes to the power of connection you can glean in a group like this, and it won’t be my last time, this I can promise.