So Many Books, So Little Time

books

Before I moved back to Camden, I fretted about a number of things, the primary one being whether I’d adjust, whether there would be people I could relate to and become friends with. I need not have worried. Work, work, work, and more work kept me busy for the first ten years, and I was very fortunate to have worked with people who were (still are) smart, funny, and a pleasure to be around.

Believing that all work and no play would make Jayne a dull girl, I soon found additional endeavors and friends that have aided in my adjustment. Before I moved back to the midlands, I asked my husband if he thought there would be a book club I could join. “Sure,” he said, probably only half listening and hoping I’d stop talking so that he could get back to his ball game or tennis match.

The reading group/book club didn’t materialize right away, but one September evening several years ago a few of us started one at church. Although our initial “let’s do this” conversation took place at church, we agreed on two rules right away: no religious books and no nonfiction books. It’s not that we were opposed to reading books of those genres; it’s just that we read them already.

We wanted to read fiction, both old and classic and newly hot off the press. We wanted to feel, to be transported to other times and places, to get lost in story. For the most part, we’ve stuck to our rules, but last year we veered away a bit when we read Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave. We’ve read quite a bit of historical fiction, and one novel that touched all of us is Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill.

In one of our early months, we read The Loop by Nicholas Evans, and a couple of members stopped coming after that. They declared that they weren’t going to “read trash.” What could we say? Do? While I wouldn’t classify The Loop as trash, I will admit there was a couple who became intimately involved without exchanging wedding rings. However, the book itself was about wolves and rangers and naturalists, and most of us (as I recall) found it captivating.

Did the angry departure of two members mean that we needed to carefully screen all future books in case there were a hint of, well, you know? None of us are into pornographic, violent, or crude writing, and none of us would knowingly choose anything inappropriate. While we were unhappy and perplexed about the two members’ exit, we learned a lesson: it’s hard, perhaps impossible, that everyone in a group is going to like the same kinds of books.

We also learned that the mix of people has to be just right. Their personalities have to jibe with one another. Who wants to be in a reading group with a know-it-all or someone who’s belligerent, stuffy, or arrogant (about reading tastes and literature)? After a while, our group slowly shrank to a unit of flexible, agreeable, courteous women who respect and genuinely care for one another.

Here’s how we operate. Each person selects a book and a month. That month, she’s in charge of the setting, discussion, and refreshments. The latter, by the way, usually aligns with the book. A few years ago, one of my choices was Elie Wiesel’s Night, and we had bread and water. True, the bread was chewy and fresh, and the water was bottled, but the “treat” complemented the book .One month we read The Chronicles of Narnia, and Connie provided Turkish delights to sample during our discussion.

The group met last night and decided on a list of must-reads for the year. Carol is up first, and she selected The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I’d never heard of this writer until last night, and when I logged on to Amazon to order the book for my Kindle, I was delighted to see so many wonderful reviews…hundreds of them. If not for my membership in the reading group, I might never have known of this book.

Admittedly, being a part of a book club is partly a social thing. But it’s also educational, mind expanding, and mentally stimulating. If you have a desire to be a part of such a group, you might consider joining ours… or maybe I can suggest one to you.

In the meantime, it’s time to begin reading The Rent Collector. What’s on your must-read list?

Duty-Bound Chick

I’ve been reading and enjoying Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits. Her words have struck many responsive chords over the past week or so, and I’ve often found myself thinking, “That’s me!” or in some cases, “That was me.” This afternoon I’m thinking of the author’s take on the Little Red Hen, a.k.a. Jayne.

When I was a younger mother, we often had family meetings about various daily living issues. A recurring topic was the unequal division of labor within the household. I did the cooking, cleaning, laundry, and chauffeuring while the others (especially the children) contributed very little to the smooth running of the household. To make matters worse, they often whined when asked to clean their rooms or heaven forbid, clean off the table or fold clothes.

Evidently, despite a background in psychology, I had not yet learned the truth of “What you allow will continue,” a phrase I often see on Facebook these days. To make matters worse, I had undoubtedly been overheard saying, “You teach people how to treat you,” in my classes, and yet I had failed to see how paradoxical that was in my own home. I had taught everyone to treat me like one of my favorite and cutest children’s book characters, the industrious little hen.

In meeting after meeting, we talked about this sweet, giving little birdie. She repeatedly asked other barnyard animals for help, but they were always busy or disinclined. No one even wanted to go to the mill to turn the wheat into flour. I can still see her picture in one of my daughter’s books, scarf flying in the wind as she drove her little red convertible around the curves on her way to the mill. Elizabeth still occasionally says, “There’s a Little Red Hen car,” when she sees a red convertible.

But I digress. Do you remember the story? When the Little Red Hen returned from the mill, no one wanted to help her bake the bread. Accustomed to sacrificing for everyone else, she slaved away in her little kitchen making loaves of delicious, aromatic bread. When the bread was ready to eat, the sleepy cat, noisy duck, and lazy dog were eager to help her devour the tasty treat.

But the Little Red Hen said NO. She had had it! Enough was enough. Why should she continue to work so hard and do so much for individuals who never helped or appreciated her?

After reading Sue Monk Kidd’s discussion on this busy little creature, I had to laugh. I have been that hen! She represents Every Woman who has ever felt taken advantage of. (I know that she also represents other types of people too, but this is my story). Despite resentment, fatigue, stress, and latent anger, some hens (er, women) continue to ALWAYS put others’ needs first. According to Kidd, they’re letting themselves be martyrs. They need to come back from the mill and say NO once in a while.

Truthfully, I already knew all of the above. But I enjoyed Kidd’s  reminder that women need to think about themselves too. They need to treat themselves well and practice the commandment to love themselves as well as their neighbors.

I have more to say about this duty-bound chick, but I’ll save it for tomorrow. Right now the little red hen part of my psyche is nudging me towards some laundry and grocery shopping. But how about it, Ladies? Do you need to back off a little from others’ demands and focus on some of your own needs?

Hope, Direction, and Gratitude

On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to get together with June, an old and dear friend. Among the many topics of conversation that afternoon was the awesome power of books to change one’s thinking, give hope, and offer direction. Yes, we talked about paint chips and husbands and careers too, but somehow the topic always returned to some of the books we’ve read and how they affected our lives.

While there are dozens that I could mention, I’m only going to highlight a few:

The first three words in Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled were sobering for both of us the first time we read it. Basing his premise on the noble truths of Buddha, Dr.Peck states, “Life is difficult,” and then goes on to say that as soon as people accept that fact and stop whining, then they can go about their lives in a more effective way.

June and I went through a season in which we devoured the words of Sarah ban Breathnach in her book Simple Abundance. We even gave each other gratitude journals and followed Sarah’s (we felt we were on a first name basis with her)  advice to write five things each day for which we were grateful. What this taught us was to be more mindful and to pay attention  to the good things in our lives.

And how can I forget Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go? I can’t. In fact, I’ve  given several copies of this book away and currently have a copy here at home, at the beach bungalow, and on my Kindle. Sometimes I forget that I deserve all that life and love have to offer, and I need a reminder from Melody. I’ve also learned about detaching with love, the power of waiting, and knowing  when to say no from her.

Then there’s Dr. Stephen Covey and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I first read this book 14 or 15 years ago, and I continue to dip into it whenever I need a reminder to be proactive, make some deposits in an emotional bank account, or sharpen the saw. Everyone who knows me knows I’m a big Covey fan.

Though small, Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved my Cheese? also gave me much food for thought. A student introduced me to this book, and his favorite line soon became one of mine: “It is safer to search in the maze than remain in a cheeseless situation.”

Before I get too carried away with more favorites, I just want to reiterate that reading can change a person’s perspective, lift her out of the doldrums, and show her a better way. I’m hoping that my new book, Eve’s Sisters, a compilation of essays applying psychological principles to the women of the Bible AND the women of today, will help people as much as other books have helped me!