Book clubs & “comfort zones”

ONE GOOD THING…

It’s time for the weekly  post of a new feature I’ve chosen to title “One Good Thing.” Each weekend, I’ll post something about what has been good to—or for—me during the week. 

I love to read fiction, particularly mysteries full of suspense and intrigue. Of course, I have my favorite popular authors of that genre. Lee Child, John Sandford, and Stephen King come to mind immediately.

Yes, most of their books are formulaic and predictable, but there always seems to be something more within the context of the stories. For example, Stephen King usually has some surprises wrapped in and around his tales of horror, and I find those tales fun and enjoyable to read. Escapism at its best!

Regardless of the book’s premise or overall concept, I know what I’m going to get when, without hesitation, I place an order with Barnes & Noble for the newest release by Child, Sandford, or King.

I also enjoy non-fiction, and I have favorite authors within that genre, too. Homer Hickam and Bill Bryson come to mind quickly. Again, I never hesitate when it comes to buying something new from each of these two wonderful writers. Perhaps it’s because, like Child, Sandford, and King, they’ve a proven track record.

“Comfort Zone”

Whatever it is, it’s a very pleasant and cozy “comfort zone” in which I find myself happily ensconced. But what happens when I am “forced” out of that comfort zone?

Why should that ever happen, you ask? Book Clubs.

I belong to two of them. One is a small group of men from our church who get together the first Saturday morning of each month from October through May. Most of the books are non-fiction, although we’ve hit upon some good fiction from time to time. (The Art of Racing in the Rain,  An Officer and a Spy, All the Light We Cannot See)IMG_1350.jpg

We meet for an hour, and it’s something to which I look forward to. We drink hot coffee, nibble on muffins or other treats one of us brings in, and chat about various things that tie-in with the book we’re all supposed to have read. The fellowship is rewarding, and it’s good to talk about various books and how they relate to our own lives.

The other book club is made up of friends from our former city. Unlike the men’s group, this one consists of fifteen to twenty folks, all with distinct interests and passions. We don’t meet as often as my men’s group—usually every couple of months—but our discussions are lively and, at times, fiery.

Using a “blind” draw or a pick-a-number, we choose our titles from an ongoing list of books suggested by the group. This has always seemed fair, although some of the book choices have been less than fun to read.

On the other hand, there have been books that I would probably never have chosen without it being the one “next up” for discussion at the next gathering, and those have turned out to be fascinating, good, and enlightening. All because I was forced out of that reading “comfort zone.”

My favorite titles these groups have discussed include the following:

  • The Warmth of Other Suns
  • Enrique’s Journey
  •  One Summer America: 1927
  • The Greater Journey
  • The Big Burn
  •  Deep Down Dark
  •  The Wright Brothers
  •  An Officer and a Spy

Of course, there are others, and I won’t dwell on those titles which I didn’t care for. After all, this feature is for finding the good and positive!

Suffice it to say, being in a book club (or two!) is a wonderful thing. Believe it or not, it’s good to get out of that reading “comfort zone” every now and then and explore new genres. Sometimes it’s all worth the trip!

And that’s one good thing…

April in the wings, an elusive ending, and Deep Down Dark…

IMG_0817Roused from my work on my novel, I just realized that the blustery month of March is just about finished, which means that the annual guessing game as to what kind of weather we’ll be having around these parts is soon to begin. Will we be able to have morning coffee on the deck before much longer? This is critical, you know!

Yep, the calendar says that it’s officially spring, but we in northern Illinois know better than to put much stock in April’s arrival ushering in warm days full of blooming flowers and trees and lawns magically greening up. Instead, we can be sure that heavy jackets and hats will be necessary at times, which makes it rather difficult to become inspired to get out there and spread the first treatment of weed-n-feed or tend to the cluttered garage. But I’m steeling myself to get my spring tasks completed despite what Mother Nature will throw at us.

But, hark! April is waiting in the wings to give us at least an illusion that we’re through with the brunt of winter’s wrath and that those shorts-and-tee shirt-days are on the way. How soon, though, is the real question. The common saying around here is that the one thing that is predictable about spring weather is that it is quite unpredictable!

Now, I’ve done enough harping about the weather, so I’ll let it go and get back to work on that elusive conclusion to Birchwood’s Secret (originally titled Sandbar’s Secret). I’m resigned to the fact that a massive rewrite is in order for the conclusion to develop. And so it goes…

* * *

Unknown-1My writing struggles aside, I’ve also been reading a very stirring non-fiction book about the thirty-three Chilean miners who were trapped in a copper mine over 2,000 feet below ground in 2010. Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, October 2014) is one of those books that is good—yet challenging—for a claustrophobic such as I to read. Knowing that the outcome is a good one makes it a bit easier, yet author Héctor Tobar has created a good deal of nerve-racking tension throughout as he brings to light the stories of these unfortunate brave Chilean miners and their families. I recommend that one not read this book prior to going to bed, although it’s hard to put down.

How about you? Is there a book you’ve read that you’ve enjoyed, but yet made you squirm a bit?

Enter October…busy times!

October has arrived, which means it’s time to get back to the old “routines” of life after the summer cottage/lake season. Although we’ve had a couple of weeks to unpack, re-settle, “untangle,” and re-adjust, there’s the realization that our busy lives are “kicking in” once again.

Saturday
Saturday (Photo credit: Brother O’Mara)

Whether it’s picking the grandsons up from school, staying with them until Mom and Dad get home, or the various errands and other tasks that take up time hither and yon, the calendar is rapidly filling up. Plus, there are the grandson’s flag football games to attend two times a week for the next few weeks, and the little side trips to Nebraska and Michigan to see family the next few weekends. And though I’ve vowed to get back to work on my writing, I’ve not done a very good job in fulfilling that vow—so far. Need to work on this!

And then there are the two book clubs I’m in, meaning I’m juggling the various books to have them read and digested (somewhat) by the next meeting date. The books we’ve read and discussed in the Saturday morning men’s group have been, for the most part, enjoyable, with a couple of exceptions. But as the good wife points out, I’m reading books I wouldn’t otherwise consider, let alone purchase. Regardless, it’s fun getting together for an hour or so, drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, and having some intelligent conversations. In this group, we’re currently reading The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. I’m three-fourths of the way through it, and I’m finding it pretty enjoyable, despite some sections that tread way too esoteric and sciency for me! But as I said, the coffee and doughnuts are very tasty on those early Saturday mornings.

Cover of "The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of ...
Cover via Amazon

The other book group is made up of long-time friends from our previous town. We gather every couple of months in one of the member’s homes, have a meal and dessert, and chat and offer our opinions of the book we’ve just read. Some books have included The Lost Symbol, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, The Help among others. Just this past summer, we attempted to plough through Moby Dick. It was an exercise not unlike slogging through a swampy marsh! In spite of our sometimes “slogging,” it’s always fun getting together with the group.

What it comes right down to is  there never seems to be enough time (“to do the things we want to do…” Jim Croce) for really accomplishing everything we look forward to doing. Being retired, I’m not really under any pressing time constraints or deadlines, but it has been difficult for a few years in making the adjustment. At any rate, I keep trying. On this wonderful sunny October morning, with a nice chill in the air, I understand that it’s finally time to re-adjust my priorities and efforts so there’s time for all that is important. Now, to do something about that writing routine…CortlandWriter

A Saturday in October…

Hello, October!

A gorgeous, sun splashed, Saturday–October 1–and just the kind of day made for college football, a walk in the country, or just about anything else one sees fit to “get out there to!” The strong winds that howled around here for the past couple of days have blown themselves out, leaving the picture-perfect landscape painting of gold, mustard, green, rust, and blue and white of the sky overhead. 

Coffee, Muffins & Cleopatra 

Discussed an interesting book this morning with several men from the book club: Cleopatra: A Life. Since I only had the book a short time, I wasn’t able to complete the whole thing, but the little I did complete proved interesting and quite thought provoking. It is obvious that the author, Stacy Schiff, emphasizes Cleopatra’s contributions to history and legendary status as a female, capable of accomplishing so many things, something not often brought forth in the “male dominated” history of the world! And though the book was a bit sluggish at times, it still was full of little kernels and tasty bits of trivia and other lesser-known pieces of information. I found these things very worthwhile.

Our next discussion in November will be what sounds like a captivating read: Hitler in the Crosshairs by Woodbridge & Possley. One of our group presented a nice background for the book, and we’re all excited about getting going on this one. In fact, I’ve just completed my ordering the book from good, old Barnes & Noble. (Love the membership for the free shipping and other discounts!)

I-L-L-I-N-I

Next up for this terrific Saturday will be watching the Fighting Illini open their Big 10 season on the gridiron against those pesky, purple foes, Northwestern. Should be a good game, and my one regret is that I’m here and not down there in Champaign to take it all in. But such is life these days. 


Nothing can spoil this one, fellow travelers. Down the sunny road we tramp on this first day of October–a beautiful month…MLA