Joining My First Book Club
Today, World Book Day, I celebrate joining my first book club. It’s about time! Here’s what happened.
The written word seduced me from the moment I first strung letters together and sounded them out. I memorized Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem titled “My Shadow.” Let’s see: “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, / And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.” And “The Little Engine That Could” taught me to whisper “I think I can—I think I can” and believe it. I looked forward to high school summer reading lists of thirty books. Thirty! I read The Brothers Karamazov at the beach and packed Ethan Frome along with tennis whites for tournaments.
Why haven’t I belonged to a book club? Perhaps because my interactive college classes and book talks deliver the sweet satisfaction of chatting about ideas and strolling in others’ shoes. More likely, it’s because I was never asked to join one! My first invitation came last week from a Creative Writing student, Ashleigh, at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. Would I be the sponsor for the prison book club?
As I read during her class from Leaving 1203 about making my mother’s potato salad, Ashleigh was reminded of the similarities to good soccer footwork. “A small tap tap here and a small tap tap there. Never use full force or you’ll lose control. Tap tap.” She asked after class about the possibility of a book club. At the time of her request, I replied that I would look into it and try my best. There would be a volunteer training class, lots of paperwork, and even more logistics to iron out. As of yesterday, however, I’m all in. I’ve met with the librarian and procured the necessary contact information.
What put me on the book club fast track?
At the request of their Creative Writing professor, Ben Sloan, students responded to my visit to his class. A week had passed. Ashleigh’s writing startled me once again with the immeasurable power of language. Her words won my heart:
“Meeting Marietta McCarty influenced my writing in ways I didn’t realize at first. As a fan of her books, I looked up to her as a writer. As a female writer without female influences, I learned the difference between emotional writing and writing down your emotions. As the time came for class, I re-read her pieces and remembered the lessons not only that she taught me but also what we taught her. Her second visit was more influential in that she read parts of her latest book and instantly I was hooked. Two women from two different worlds, two different generations, linked by our writing. Meeting Marietta felt like meeting Myself for the first time. Seeing Marietta again was like walking past a hidden mirror and remembering what I looked like.”
Yes, that’s what books do—link different worlds. Books supply tickets to travel through time to new places. They spark our imaginations as our spirits soar far and free. Books motivate and change us. Books introduce us to ourselves and humanity. And most of all, they make us aware of human sameness.