OK, I know that sounds rather dramatic—with 45 years in the theater 🎭 under my belt, I suppose that’s possible.🤣 I’m also going to say that for me, in a very real way, it’s quite true.
A simple Google search will quickly reveal the many benefits of reading on a regular basis:
- Strengthens the brain
- Increases empathy
- Builds vocabulary
- Prevents cognitive decline
- Reduces stress
- Aids sleep
- Alleviates depression
- Lengthens lifespan
Let’s be honest, that’s a pretty impressive list! As we age, who doesn’t want to keep their gray matter supple and strong, sleep better, and have a way to manage stress?
When I was younger, I was an avid, even voracious, reader. I made regular trips to the library and hauled out as many books as they’d let me at a time. Then in college, my reading tolerance was exceeded by textbooks and only in the summers did I find time to read just for the joy of it. (Oh, yeah, add that one to the list above.) My early corporate years had me feeling like a limp noodle with nothing left at the end of my days and life in the theater, left me with even less. Diving into a book felt like an indulgence, a guilty pleasure--certainly there was something more important I should be doing. I also found it increasingly difficult to sit still to read. Sound familiar?
So, let’s get to the juicy part where a book club saved my life.
Just as I turned 50, my husband and I moved to a beautiful, small town in the Midwest. I found myself with zero friends, zero occupation, and next to zero time with my husband due to his work. After a few weeks of enjoying my leisure, I longed for community. My husband decided I needed a dog, and that’s how our dear Cleo came into our lives. But I also craved human interaction (yes, I’m a huge introvert who loves people,) needed something just for me, and wanted to keep my brain from turning to mush. I decided a book club could be the answer.
Our gem of a local library had not only one but three book clubs to choose from that each gathered once a month. I selected the afternoon meeting. I negotiated with myself that I could skip a nap once a month. After several go's at it and not finishing the selection in time, I actually read the book and got up the nerve to go at the appointed time.
My fears melted with the warmth of the coffee and smiles I was offered.
I was intrigued to see such a variety of interesting women around the table and, as I came to appreciate, a wonderful collection of amazing human beings (see that “empathy” thing on the list above.) Each and every one had remarkable experiences to share and perspectives to bring. It took a few months to actually learn names, but the kindness was always there. Over the next handful of years, we enjoyed lively conversations on everything from classics to sports stories, books about local events and history to murder mysteries and romance, it was truly a magical time I still hold dear. Ok, that’s still not the part that saved my life—although reclaiming my joy of reading was huge.
My mom came to live with us during this time in the Midwest.
I felt her isolation with an aching pang wrapped in a smothering blanket of my own guilt, knowing she had left so many of her family and friends back on the East Coast.
Mom was a life-long reader and polished at least a book a week, sometimes more. By the time she came to live with us, her eyesight was fading. She had already given up on knitting because of arthritis, and I couldn’t bear to see her lose reading, too. So, I introduced her to the benefits of using an electronic reader—being able to change the print size, brightness, having her books all in one place, easy to hold, and being able to read books from our library’s digital collection. It helped keep her joy of reading alive. And that’s it, right there. Saving that piece of Mom for a time saved a piece of me.
Mom and I started going to book club together.
She was full of stories, interesting anecdotes, and unique contributions--many of which I’d never heard before. We went whether or not we’d read the book, although Mom almost always had. We enjoyed the group discussions and our own exuberant conversations in the car on the way home filled with giggles and self-examination. It became a cherished time for us—something special just for Mom and me.
By the time we moved to Spokane a few years later, Mom’s hearing was failing; book club became a frustration and reminder to her rather than a pleasure. I knew our time together was coming to an end. I miss her and our book club adventures.
It’s been difficult thinking of reconnecting with a book club since Mom passed. Just as I was ready, in-person meetings were not an option. The Zoom get togethers seemed cold and impersonal. I craved chatting with friends about great books. So, I decided to start our own. It’s still via Zoom but with friends all around. A book club to savor all those wonderful books we’ve been meaning to read, together. Books to inspire, uplift, motivate, educate. Join us! We'll welcome you with the warmth of our smiles. Bring the bevvie of your choice. And who knows, maybe a book club will save your life, too.