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BETWEEN THE LINES

Homage to book groups

You might think I’m nuts to travel 500 miles to attend a book group discussion, but that’s exactly what I did last week. My friend Rita invited me to join the book group she started eighteen years in the Society Hill/Queen Village/Bella Vista/Washington Square neighborhood of Philadelphia. They were discussing my novel, HOUSE ARREST. I said, “yes, of course. I’d love to.”

I love book groups. I’m in two of them. One, that began the same year Rita and her friends started the Philly group, is called Stones & Bones in acknowledgement of how many books we read the first few years with “stones” or “bones” in the title (wonderful books like STONES FROM THE RIVER, THE BONE PEOPLE, STONE DIARIES, BEAT NOT THE BONES.) The other is a lively “open” literary fiction discussion group I lead once a month at the Odyssey Bookshop.

What is it I love so much about book groups? Partly it’s the fellowship (is that a sexist term? Not fellaship certainly. Maybe sisterhood?) Partly it’s because writing fiction, focusing so much on craft, can take away some of the pleasure of reading. Book group discussions reconnect me with that reader-joy.

Attending the Philly group was different. I didn’t know them, and they were discussing my book.

I loved it. The members were warm and welcoming. Their comments and questions were smart and thoughtful. It wasn’t hard to admit to choices I would make differently if I were writing HOUSE ARREST now. I didn’t want the evening to end.

After that experience, I’d add another reason to the list above about why I love book groups: they remind me how much I love this work. Writing is offering pieces of myself to a community of readers. Writing is participating passionately in the profoundly difficult and rewarding effort to understand our universe and ourselves.

It is quite simply the work I’m meant to do.
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