Read past articles by Sheila:
"On Whose Shoulders I Stand"
"From the other side of the desk"
From the other side of the desk…book clubs
Sheila J. Williams
quilt of paragraphs begins with a confession: I like book clubs. I like to read
the books (even when they aren’t books that I would normally read) and I like to
attend the meetings. There’s usually great food, interesting and informed people
and laughter. Laughter is great for whatever is making you sick. I’ve been asked
to attend book club meetings for books that I’ve read and for books that I’ve
written. The discussions are nearly always provocative, fun and enlightening.
And when one of my own books is under the microscope, I’m always grateful for
the kindness extended to me as the author: no one has ever trashed one of my
books in my presence! And I often learn something about the story I’ve told.
Readers will find nuggets of information, a nuance or advocate an interpretation
of my own work that I never dreamed of. Sometimes, I’m amazed at how I managed
to (unconsciously, of course) write such layered material! (Don’t get huffy
about this sentence, I’m only joking. I do not take myself or my writing that
is one book club meeting that I participated in that stood (and still stands)
out from the rest. On March 18, 2007, the Jack Sherman Book Club met in
Cincinnati Ohio at the home of Gwen and Bob Wilder on a Sunday afternoon. When I
arrived, the house was full of warmth, laughter and the mouth-watering aromas of
food - the good stuff like fried chicken, fish, you know everything that makes
Sunday afternoon’s special - and smiles. There’s another memory I have of this
group: there were a lot of smiles, the sincere kind that lift the face and add
sparkle to the eyes. But there’s one thing that’s makes the Jack Sherman book
group different from others I’d attended up to that time: it's a couple’s book
club. Husbands and wives choose a book and the couple that makes the book choice
hosts the meeting and the dinner.
chosen by the group this time was Girls Most Likely (2006). I was given a
comfy seat and a drink in a prominent place in Bob and Gwen’s family room. Then
the discussion began. And I was blown away.
you see, I write women’s fiction. I don’t think of myself as a “women’s fiction”
writer but the business of publishing mandates that (a) if you’re a woman and
(b) you write fiction then (c) you write women’s fiction. So that should mean
that your stories only relate to women. Right?
to the men in the club, that was not true. In addition to relating anecdotes
from the book (and they read the book carefully, trust me!) they provided
insights into the male characters from Girls that I hadn’t heard before.
The guys took apart the characters and gave them back stories that would be a
novelist’s dream! They talked about the friends they had who were like the
philandering Bradley or the nerdy Jimmy and many of them were familiar with Lt.
Col. Taylor, Audrey’s dictatorial father, the retired military man who held
inspections for his children and demanded a level of perfection that no human
could attain. They talked about the male characters as husbands, fathers, lovers
and friends. They gave me insights into the men that I had created – and made
me a wiser and more perceptive writer in the process. And the man, who corralled
the comments, led many of the discussions and provided a good deal of the humor
and focus was Bob Wilder, our host.
an avid reader – we traded book recommendations from time to time via email
through his lovely wife, Gwen. He read carefully and noticed everything – you
couldn’t sneak a detail or a plot point past Bob – he enjoyed reading and he
enjoyed talking about books. His joy in the written word was infectious: it
spread to his family, his friends and to me. Book clubs are like that. They make
everyone feel good, like the comfort food that Bob and Gwen served on that
beautiful March afternoon.
Wilder passed away this past summer after going toe to toe with cancer like
Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring. Bob loved books. He loved parties. He loved his
family and friends. I am only one of many who will miss him. He taught us all a
lot about enjoying life. He taught me to be a better writer and a more alert
reader. Namaste, Bob. And thank you.