I heart my book club – Ella Joy Olsen

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By Ella Joy Olsen

Ten well-read women around a table, dusk obscuring color and line. Two open bottles of wine, platters of salad passed, candles elongating shadows in the summer evening, welcome breeze from the canyon, conversation sizzling. My book club.♥

I’ve belonged to the same book club for almost 20 years. Initially, it was the one evening a month I could leave the demands of early motherhood and be the person I was before I had children. I could eat a meal I didn’t prepare (and didn’t have to spoon in to a reluctant mouth) and talk to friends without using a sing-song voice. On those special nights, my intellect returned. It gave me an outlet, a group of friends with a common passion. It gave me a lifeline.

Over the years, the members of my book club and I have mourned together as one of our beloved members lost her battle with ovarian cancer, wrung our hands with worry as members were divorced, and waved reluctant goodbyes as several moved away. Through those same years, we’ve watched our children grow, consumed cases of wine, discussed dreams, parenting, partners, and politics – each conversation interwoven with the universal themes of literature.

More than a few acquaintances and friends along the way have asked to join in, and it’s tempting to invite new members to get a taste of the deliciousness, but we’re a little possessive of our intimate club, and somehow the exclusivity is part of the magic. Having known each other for so long, the sanctity of our group is a safe place to discuss viewpoints about controversial subjects and share secrets. It’s a fine balance of juxtaposing our opposing values and employing kindness in responding to them. I know that some book clubs meet to have a nice meal, gossip, and drink a bunch of wine. Not ours. We are serious readers (who also drink a bunch of wine). root, petal, thorn COMP

How to create your own book club? Number one rule: don’t invite all your best friends. You want a non-homogenous group committed to one common thing – love of the written word. Different religious, political, and geographical backgrounds add depth to the conversation. Keep the membership to about ten: which is large enough to have a vigorous discussion (even if one or two don’t show up) but not so many that the hostess won’t have a table large enough to seat everyone. Most importantly, we’ve also found that ten is the maximum number for cohesive conversation. More people and the group will splinter into several side discussions.

A few administrative details: We choose our books for the whole year in November or December. Each member chooses one book for which they will facilitate the discussion. Facilitation (at the very least) will include keeping the discussion on topic, asking questions, and researching the author. Sometimes the facilitator will host a guest speaker or arrange a Skype session with the author. We’ve even visited museums and historical sites to enhance the discussion.

In one separate month per year, each member will host book club and provide all the food and drink for the evening. The rest of the year, members only have to read, attend, and enjoy. We have one overnight retreat and, around the holidays, we gather for brunch at a restaurant (no book discussion).

Some of the more notable moments in our club’s history: dressing in character for a discussion of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; debating the publishing controversy and the differences between Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman; and listening to the Serial podcast then holding our discussion in a federal courtroom (one of our members is married to a federal court judge).

A favorite for me, personally, happened when we read Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and revealed our personal legends. It was the first time I declared out loud that I wanted to be a writer. Ten years later, I was brave enough to let my book club read the completed (and, at the time, yet to be represented) manuscript for Root, Petal, Thorn.

I wouldn’t be a published author today without the love, support, and critical feedback from my beloved book club. And without these cherished friends, the years of my life – and the pages I turn – would not be as rich.

Ella Joy Olsen was born, raised, and currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah – a charming town tucked against the massive Rocky Mountains. She is the mom of three kids and the wife of one patient husband. Ella spent nearly a decade on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake City Public Library System and graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Finance. Root, Petal, Thorn (August 2016/Kensington) is her debut novel.


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