Author On the Bookcase: Laura Brodie
I'm excited to welcome Laura Brodie to On the Bookcase. Laura is the author of The Widow's Season and the newly released, Love in a Time of Homeschooling: A Mother and Daughter's Uncommon Year.
Laura was on the Reading Group Choices panel at the Virginia Festival of the Book with me, Mary Sharratt, Masha Hamilton, and Sheila Curran. Laura discussed with the VABOOK audience that in her college thesis on widows in literature led to her novel, The Widow's Season.
Love in a Time of Homeschooling, Laura's new book, traces the one year she homeschooled her daughter. There is a great article in The Washington Post about Laura, Love in a Time of Homeschooling, and why she and her daughter, Julia, did the education adventure.
Laura writes today on reading groups in her small town in Lexington -- a reading group mecca!
When my debut novel, The Widow’s Season, was published last June, I learned something surprising about the small town in which I live. It turns out that Lexington, VA, population 8000, is a book club mecca.
Lexington is nestled in a rural corner of southwest Virginia, between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. It’s a beautiful spot, great for hiking and kayaking, and home to two colleges, Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute.
There are no night clubs in a town like Lexington -- no mall, no roller rink, no Barnes and Noble. The bowling alley shut down a decade ago and the downtown movie theater seems to barely survive (though the drive-in outside of town is still going strong). So what do people do in a small, well-educated town, especially during the long winter months when the river and mountains are cold and forbidding? Turns out, they spend a lot of time talking about books.
I had always known that Lexington had a few reading groups; I had been a member of one for twelve years. But I had never known the extent of their reach until I wrote a novel set in a town that mirrored Lexington, with a heroine who believes that she is being haunted by her husband’s ghost. That topic inspired interest, and over the course of two months I received calls from eleven books clubs, asking me to meet with them.
As with reading groups nationwide, each club in Lexington has its own personality. There’s the group of young mothers from the Montessori preschool, who breastfeed their babies while discussing new fiction. There’s the newcomers club full of senior women who have recently retired to the area. I will always remember, with amused fondness, the septuagenarian who chided me for crafting a heroine who wasn’t appreciative enough of her husband.
Lexington has one club that meets at the library, and one that meets at restaurants. The men’s bookclub apologized for not inviting me, explaining that they mostly read nonfiction (sigh, men…). Our town’s biggest reading group, which includes almost fifty women, has been meeting since the 1960s. They invited me to an elegant mansion on Lexington’s most historic avenue, with elaborate refreshments served on silver and crystal in a high-ceilinged dining room. I felt as if I had stepped into a scene from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
The common denominator in all of these groups is the sense of community and connectedness spawned through reading. These women discuss their lives as much as their books. They attend local lectures, organize parties and service activities, and they are the chief supporters of our town’s two independent bookstores—cozy, cat-inhabited spaces that help to anchor our quaint downtown. In a small college town, the life of the mind is crucial to the health of the collective.
Local women who aren’t in book clubs often tell me that they are planning to join one soon. They speak with a note of apology, as if membership in a book group is a prerequisite to a life well lived. It isn’t. But it sure comes close.
Thanks so much, Laura, for sharing your thoughts about Lexington and small town reading groups.
What do you think of book groups being "a prerequisite to a life well lived?"