On Bookish Friendships

Like-mindedness was never the goal.

Mieke loves The Power. I do, too. I tell her about a funny thing that happens after I finish it: I get this impulse to open my palm and zap people (admittedly, mostly men). I am disappointed when my skein doesn’t work (this might be because I don’t have one). Mieke lets out a throaty laugh and confesses to the same urge. This takes my breath away: that I can share anything with someone as beautiful and strong and worldly as Mieke is the highest of compliments.

bookish friendships

“What’s your favorite GBC book?” I ask her. The GBC is our book club. In Toronto, we meet on the last Tuesday of every month. It’s my happy place.

The Alice Network,” Mieke says. “Though my favorite genre is post-apocalyptic.” When I ask her for recommendations for beginners (such as me), she tells me to check out World War Z and Trail of Lightening“The last one is YA, but I really enjoyed it.”

Erin is not a fan of Alderman’s book. But she did love Pachinko (our April pick)—as did I. Erin is choosy, selective. My friend Colleen refers to Erin as, “the most well-read person I know.” It is a statement that tickles my curious bone—after all, Colleen is the most well-read person I know. I go on Erin’s Goodreads page. She is currently reading six books—six. I am intrigued by two of them: The Bedlam Stacks and Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. They seem…intellectually intimidating. And they’re nothing compared to the 610 she has read. Her taste in books is eclectic. “I like literary fiction of all kinds, on and off—historical fiction, autobiographical novels—but I’d say my most reliable genre love is espionage/spy fiction,” she says. I understand Colleen’s statement. Erin is probably the most well-read person anyone knows.

It is only February, but Jen has already read—and enjoyed—March’s book: Lily and the Octopus. At first, I am excited. Jen knows her books: she loves memoirs and historical fiction. In fact, Jen discovered her love for historical fiction when she read our September 2016 book: The Nightingale. I also know she is a fan of A Man Called Ove, an all-time favorite of mine. But then I look at the cover for Lily and the Octopus: it features a drawing of a dog, a dachshund, I think. That’s when I shudder. As a rule, I don’t read books about dogs. Dogs die, and a dying dog equals a crying me. Sarah W. (our Toronto hostess) invites Jen to get up and talk to our group about Lily and the Octopus. Jen politely declines. This strikes me as odd: Jen is talkative, intelligent. She is generous with her time and knowledge. That’s when I see it: a sadness of sorts dancing behind her eyes.

“Is the dog called Octopus?” I ask.

“Lily is the dog,” Jen tells me. “It takes a while before we find out who the Octopus is.”

“Should I read it?” I know that Jen understands what I’m really asking. She knows that I am a devoted bulldog mother. She, too, is dedicated to her dogs.

“No,” she tells me. “But it’s a good book.”

Alas, not all good books are meant to be read. At least not by me.

Amie is opinionated, cultured, and astute. She also never likes the book. This is not an exaggeration. Still, she is a frequent GBCer. Month after month, she is there with us: laughing, drinking, exchanging bookish recommendations. In June, she pulls me aside to chat. That’s when I find out—and I cannot stress enough how utterly extraordinary this is—that she actually liked June’s book. I am gobsmacked. Although, come to think of it, I really shouldn’t be. The book in question is The Dry by Jane Harper. Our Toronto hostess, Sarah D. (not a typo: our two hostesses share the same name—it’s both cute and confusing), takes a poll and, unsurprisingly, most of us loved Harper’s novel. It is a brilliant, unputdownable read. Even Amie loved it! Although, to be fair, Amie does add one comment, “I preferred her second book, Force of Nature.”

A book club is a place to meet new books—ones we might otherwise not read. Books we might love or hate—or even love and hate. This is standard practice. A baseline expectation. And it’s something I love—after all, I love books. But it’s also my second favorite thing about the GBC.

My favorite thing is this: the women.

The GBC is the only setting where I could’ve met these women. Not just the ones I am writing about now—Mieke, Erin, Jen, and Amie—but all the unimaginably wonderful women that belong to the club. We are a diverse group. It would be easy to focus on the myriad things that set us apart: age, careers, nationality, ethnicity. Even our favorite reading genres are often vastly different.

But that’s not that we do.

Instead, we focus on what we have in common: we are all women and we all love books. There is a lesson in this: bookish friendships are not predicated on bookish affinity. This makes them more unexpected, but also more rewarding.

As I said: like-mindedness was never the goal.

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