As a Latina journalist and writer, as well as now educator, my plate is busy and jam- packed with grading, daily class meetings and also finding time for my personal life. You could say that back in my mid 20s, I got lonely and wanted to find friends that shared my bookish interests, not just those who wanted to hit a club in Miami or go to the bar. I wanted more meaningful connections.
With that dream in mind, I started my own book club and started seeking other like-minded girls who wanted to join in and chat about the latest book they’ve read, or maybe even pick a book a month and discuss. At the time, around 2012, I was a full-time editor at Where Magazine Miami and most of my time was spent schmoozing with public relations professionals and writing about the latest restaurant or travel hotspot. All great things, but I wanted to share my love of books with other women that wanted to chat about digging into a book late at night and falling asleep, then waking up with a bookmark on your face. That’s the sort of joy you cannot purchase.
Excitedly, I met a lot of other girls, and my book club was born. We would first meet at cool little local cafes and restaurants, and some of my friends in marketing even provided new books for the girls to check out and little goodies that they could take home with them. I remember us tackling all sorts of books, especially in the YA spectrum, such as the Shadowhunters series, The Fault in Our Stars and The 5th Wave. I was happy as a writer and journalist to have an outlet and to have these new friends to talk to.
Then, as it happens unfortunately in some groups at times, the misunderstandings started hitting the fan. A group of girls branched out after saying my “book club had lost its way” due to the fact that we never really just stuck to one book, and started their own club, where at times they would put down others for reading teen classics such as Twilight and anything by Sarah J. Maas, such as Throne of Glass. Those girls that remained in mine were confused as to why their picks weren’t being accepted as books that were meant to be read and enjoyed. With that said, now being 39 and almost in my 40s, I look back at that book club as a lesson: I was hungry for connections, but maybe forced some. I connected others, but did not connect with them myself. Seeking validation, I tried to please everyone at all times, but that didn’t work, because I was not happy. I truly needed a change and to make my own book space a safe space and to be myself in the end.
Moving on and looking at this experience, I realize that sometimes when you allow strangers into your life, not everyone is meant to mesh and become a friend. Sometimes people find others that they click with and decide to take things in a different direction, and that’s okay. Those girls, while nice, were not truly the type of people that could appreciate the type of book club that I was trying to create, where a mix of reads and discussions could change monthly. Did we sometimes divert and talk about our life and problems in my book club? Yes, yes we did, and sometimes it became a sort of therapy where we would look forward to the next meeting just to see our friends and talk bookish fun and, well, life in general.
With that said, fast-forward to now, and it seems the book club misunderstandings have ceased to exist, at least in my world. Book clubs, in my honest opinion, are meant to connect, not divide. So now my little, and mostly private, group thrives in reading diverse books and books from all categories, YA and beyond. We share ideas with each other and have found a safe space, without ever putting down another gal due to her book club pick. We have found our own bookish nirvana, where conversations thrive and we always discuss the good, and maybe even not as good parts, of a bookish tale.
Some books that we have picked up lately include, Lobizona, Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Aurora Rising and Gravemaidens. The list goes on and on, and includes a variety of authors. We get together, maybe crack open a bottle of wine, snack on pizza, or focus on coffee and discuss our lives, and catch up on what we have each learned from the book we have picked in the process. No judgement, just a safe haven for book talk. In my belief, every book lover has a right to love what they love and share that love and joy with the world. Books, no matter what, were meant to be read, as long as we realize that not every book is perfect, but that they’re all certainly ready and ripe for meaningful discussions.
With my book club in its different incarnations now spanning almost eight years of existence, I’ve learned a few lessons that you can take with you if you’re looking to start your own. First, not every book acquaintance is a book friend. Two, sometimes people just come by for the freebies (let that be snacks or, in my case at times, books), so keep those a bit more closely managed and have your members contribute their own as well. Three, not everyone will stay in your club, some may branch out and do their own thing, but those who stay will likely be happy to connect and be positive and caring with each other and with their love of books. And four, you can truly find some of your best friends through book clubs. When you’re older, it’s so hard sometimes to make good friends, so it’s amazing when we do find some new connections through things we relate to and enjoy as adults.
I would say that the trick to keeping a book club alive in your 20s and 30s, and even 40s and beyond, is to trust each other, be kind to each other and respectful of different ideas and perspectives. While you may not agree with or like a book someone else likes, that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t changed someone else’s viewpoint, gotten them out of a reading slump, or even through a tough time. And, make sure you realize that some books might be problematic, but be open to discussing why. In the end, a book club should be a mature, friendly, and safe space where you can escape everyday stressors and have a good time with others who simply love to read as much as you do. There are no real rules, just respect, love and understanding of each other’s likes and differences.
So, thank you to my current book club girls Rachel, Flo, Alexandra, Rosemary, and all those other lovely ladies who have stuck around this wild little monthly get-together! Thank you for making me realize there are others out there who relate to and love reading as much as I do. Let’s hope that we continue to keep it real, and that the friendships that I’ve found will last for a long time.
To those that were ever a part of it, thank you as well for the lessons and I wish you all the best. And to those of you seeking to start a book club now, make it your own and invite who your heart desires, and be ready for a little heartbreak if not everyone sticks around. As with any club, there will be growing pains and lessons learned. But in the end, those who do stay will become your own little, and amazing, bookish family, that will forever thank you for helping them find a safe space to be themselves and make new friends. In a time when it’s sometimes hard to find new friends and connect with others, it’s good to have some common ground to stand on. A bookshelf with a huge TBR, that is.