The poet Muriel Rukeyser most famously proclaimed, “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”

No better proof of that dictum can be found than the conversation that occurs all around the world when readers assemble around a dining room table or a fireplace. The current name for this practice is book club, but it probably goes all the way back in time to the time of the cave dwellers.

Massanutten Area Book Club, January 2014

Since the publication of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, I have been invited to speak to five local book clubs. Each one has taught me something new, but in the end, they are all about the same thing.

Connection.

I’ve taken this word as my theme for 2014 and have placed it next to my desk.

Last night’s meeting with the great readers in this photo illustrated the point perfectly. Each person came with a list of questions and observations. We talked about similarities and differences among Mennonite, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic backgrounds, all represented in the group. We discovered how few generalizations can be made about religion and how important it is to listen and learn from each other.

We also talked about cars, divorce, clothing, family, and, of course, the best subject of all: grandchildren.

Being part of this club at the invitation of my friend Linda Heatwole Bland warmed my heart. So did the shoofly pie Linda made herself. And the gift she gave me — a special collector’s edition of Shirley Temple movies. What fun!

I want to remember to take pictures of groups when I meet with them. I forgot to do that a few times in the past, but here’s another remembrance of a wonderful evening in Harrisonburg. One of the things I love about being invited to book clubs is the warm welcome into other people’s homes –and the chance to see their heirlooms, art work, and other objects that tell stories. That’s indeed what we are made of, stories.

When this group met, there were three Shirleys and two Karens in the room.

Being part of conversations among neighborhood book clubs makes me remember with fondness the one I left behind in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

However, the mug my neighbors gave me when we moved to Virginia still holds many memories along with a grande coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. I wrote this post drinking from the cup of friendship that ties my story to many, many other stories.

Stratford Woods (Kalamazoo) Friends Mug

Are you part of a book club? What do you like most about your club? How does book club selection (and knowing you will discuss the book) impact the experience of reading for you?

Shirley Showalter

24 Comments

  1. Linda Heatwole Bland on January 9, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Thank you, Shirley for sharing your reflections and stories with my book club. It was a wonderful evening for all us. Our conversation centered around your memior offered insights about each other we had not known. What a special gift.

  2. shirleyhs on January 9, 2014 at 1:26 pm

    Linda, it was a treat for me too, as you can tell above. I got a kick out of the fact that you all learned more about each other than you knew before — after going around the table with the subject of childhood religious background.

    Hope your club endures many years and that many books and stories enter your collective, connected spaces.

  3. Sandi Dodson on January 9, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Your comments bring back the many memories I have of the Kalamazoo book club. I am still searching for a book club in St. Louis that is like the Kalamazoo one. It is not a easy task.

  4. shirleyhs on January 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    Sandi, I hope you find a new club, even though we know how hard it would be to top ours in Kalamazoo. šŸ™‚

    Knowing you, there will be lots of people right around you who will be beating a path to your door. And one day, poof!, you’ll have a great book club again.

    All best!

  5. Laurie Buchanan on January 9, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Shirley – I so appreciate one of your opening wisdoms in this post:

    “We discovered how few generalizations can be made about religion and how important it is to listen and learn from each other.”

    From a WRITING perspective, I belong to “The International Women’s Writing Guild,” “The Non-Fiction Author’s Association,” and I attend (and have taught at) “The Writers’ Institute, UW-Madison.”

    But locally, the book club that nurtures my READING soul ā€” is “Between the Covers.” And yes, as you can imagine from our humorous title, we crack ourselves up!

  6. shirleyhs on January 9, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    I’d love to eavesdrop undercover at one of your club meetings, Laurie. I’m sure there’s lots of laughter to sweeten the conversation and plenty of profundity and connection under the laughter.

    Knowing how prolific and insightful you are, as a writer, reader, and teacher, I’m sure that the other members of “Between the Covers” consider you a great catch.

  7. Kathleen Pooler on January 9, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    What a lovely post, Shirley. I love seeing the photos of your readers and hearing about those conversations around the table. To be invited into their homes is even more special. You certainly have made “life after a book launch” seem very appealing. I’m sure it’s a lot of hard work but to connect face-to-face with the invisible readers you’ve been writing for all these years makes it all worthwhile. You’ve set the bar in showing us all what “meaningful connections” means!

    • shirleyhs on January 9, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Ah, Kathy, this truly is the fun part of having written a book, and I know you will enjoy it and that your readers will love meeting you in person also. The warmth and generosity in your spirit will make your readers relax in your presence.

      This is the year for you, 2014. I’m holding that thought, and you, in the light. May you continue to write in solitude and then connect virtually, and, even better, in real life.

      Thanks for the comment, as always.

  8. Becky Povich on January 9, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    What a wonderful post, Shirley! I’m in the midst right now of trying to find book clubs in my area that would like to read my recently published memoir. I’m definitely NOT an introvert, and love all the things that go with marketing and promoting. With the holidays, my time was limited, but I’m getting back into it now. I’m wondering if Sandi Dodson (comment above) means St. Louis, Missouri….or St. Louis, Michigan?? Just curious because I live in the St. Louis, Missouri area! šŸ™‚

    • shirleyhs on January 9, 2014 at 4:34 pm

      How exciting, Becky. Please tell us the title of your book. Sandi could well be your neighbor. She lives in St. Louis, MO. It would be fun to see the two of you CONNECT. šŸ™‚

      • Becky Povich on January 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm

        Hi Shirley! Thanks so much! The title of my memoir is: “From Pigtails to Chin Hairs: A Memoir & More.”
        I’ve gotten lots of laughs on the title, and some great book reviews. And yes, I’d love to e-mail with Sandi! How exciting! (And, P.S. Whenever I hear “St. Louis,” I automatically think of Missouri since it’s the most well known, but when reading Sandi’s comment about Kalamazoo, I thought maybe she meant Michigan. I’m happy to know it’s not!) So, Shirley, yes….please connect Sandi with me! Thank you!

  9. Sandy Dodson on January 9, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Shirley, can you pass on to Becky that it is St. Louis, Mo.
    I would love to talk to her and help her connect to some book clubs. My daughter Jennifer belongs to 2 book clubs and sponsor another at the library . Also my neighbor is member of book club. Unfortunate for me these are all closed book clubs not excepting new members.

    • shirleyhs on January 9, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      You could start a new club with just one other person. And you can ask your local librarian to set up a book club dating service for other who want to join. Becky herself might have some suggestions. If she agrees here, I will connect the two of you on email. So much fun to play matchmaker!

  10. Marian Beaman on January 10, 2014 at 12:53 am

    I’ve read through the comments and affirm what your readers already know: you are the Mistress of Making Connections. You have done so in your memoir writing and in the marketing and promoting that necessarily follow.

    When I saw your choice of Connection as your theme for 2014, E. M. Forster’s quote from Howards End came to mind: Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. (My word is Imagination, I have decided.)

    I must check out the Becky Povich memoir. With the words pigtails and chin hairs in the title, I can certainly relate. What a hoot!

    • Becky Povich on January 10, 2014 at 1:46 am

      Marian, first I have to say that I love your name! My older sister’s name is Marian, and spelled the same way. And I’m thrilled that you like the title of my memoir! I do hope you’ll get the chance to read it!
      And thanks, again, Shirley, for just being YOU! šŸ™‚

  11. Richard Gilbert on January 12, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    I am a member of my university’s Common Book committee so a form of club, and one I greatly enjoy. Though I must say we have to be predatory readers! A candidate must have a live author willing to come and affordable, a strong narrative, and a big social issue. That’s a tall order.

    How wonderful it must be to talk to appreciative, discerning readers about your book.

    • shirleyhs on January 14, 2014 at 10:18 am

      “Appreciative and discerning” — the best possible combination, and one I know you will enjoy also, Richard, as your memoir Shepherd launches.

      Common books are a great idea when everyone buys into the concept and the committee does great work searching, debating, asking, and then hosting an author. I’m sure any committee you are part of fulfills its mission well.

  12. Becky povich on January 17, 2014 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Shirley. Sandi and I got together and we definitely “connected!” We talked as if we’d been friends for years! Thank you!

    • shirleyhs on January 18, 2014 at 9:44 am

      Loved this! Sandi is a wonderful friend. Glad you connected and that this blog could facilitate that. šŸ™‚

  13. Sue McFadden on June 16, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I started a book club about a year and half ago. The members and our discussions about books has been so enriching in my life and I hope there’s! I loved reading Blush. I grew up in central PA of Mennonite ancestry on my Father’s side but did not know much about them. Thank you for sharing your life. I found so many similarities even though we are no longer of the Mennonite faith. Faith is faith so hail to that!

    • Shirley Showalter on June 16, 2016 at 11:27 am

      Sue, thanks so much for these words about Blush and faith. Yes! The same thing happened when the Landis Homes Book Club discussed the book. Many of the people in the room did not grow up Mennonite. They came from places all along the east coast and from a number of different denominations. Now, however, they live in Lancaster County, PA, and even live in a community started by Mennonites and are surrounded by Mennonites. I’m glad the book helps explain the differences AND highlight the connections among ALL people of faith. Thanks for the comment. Hope you have a great time with your book club!

      • Sue McFadden on June 16, 2016 at 2:39 pm

        Shirley,

        I reposted my book give away for The Art Spirit by Robert Henri at my blog site. I’ve extended it to June 30th. I hope you and guests will stop by again! I only had one taker before and she did not respond so even if I have to buy another book, I will because I love this on so much!

        Sue

        • Shirley Showalter on June 16, 2016 at 2:42 pm

          This is great news. I encourage all my readers to go check out this wonderful opportunity. I really enjoyed seeing your art, too.

  14. Glen Nafziger on June 19, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    I belong to a small, very informal, men’s book club started by a man who wanted to attend his wife’s book club. Her reply, “no way”. So he started the Men’s Auxiliary to the Archbold Ladies Book Club.

    Should you ever happen to come to Archbold, you would receive a warm welcome. On display in my home are two marbles, one with a tiger and the other a leopard pattern. They were produced by Mark Mathews, a world class glass blower at Sauder Village. An identical pair resides in the permanent glass collection of the Victoria % Albert museum in London. The patterns were produced by taking photos of actual hides (shot pre- endangerment.)
    The story or stGories: I was the hunter.

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