Sheila Williams

Girls Most Likely

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Read past articles by Sheila:
"On Whose Shoulders I Stand"
"From the other side of the desk"

From the other side of the deskÖbook clubs

September, 2009

Sheila J. Williams

This quilt of paragraphs begins with a confession: I like book clubs. I like to read the books (even when they arenít books that I would normally read) and I like to attend the meetings. Thereís usually great food, interesting and informed people and laughter. Laughter is great for whatever is making you sick. Iíve been asked to attend book club meetings for books that Iíve read and for books that Iíve written. The discussions are nearly always provocative, fun and enlightening. And when one of my own books is under the microscope, Iím 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 Iíve told. Readers will find nuggets of information, a nuance or advocate an interpretation of my own work that I never dreamed of. Sometimes, Iím amazed at how I managed to (unconsciously, of course) write such layered material! (Donít get huffy about this sentence, Iím only joking. I do not take myself or my writing that seriously.)

But there 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 afternoonís special - and smiles. Thereís 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 thereís one thing thatís makes the Jack Sherman book group different from others Iíd attended up to that time: it's a coupleís book club. Husbands and wives choose a book and the couple that makes the book choice hosts the meeting and the dinner.

The book 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 Gwenís family room. Then the discussion began. And I was blown away.

Because you see, I write womenís fiction. I donít think of myself as a ďwomenís fictionĒ writer but the business of publishing mandates that (a) if youíre a woman and (b) you write fiction then (c) you write womenís fiction. So that should mean that your stories only relate to women. Right?

According 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 hadnít heard before. The guys took apart the characters and gave them back stories that would be a novelistís 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, Audreyís 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 Ė 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.

Bob was an avid reader Ė we traded book recommendations from time to time via email through his lovely wife, Gwen. He read carefully and noticed everything Ė you couldnít sneak a detail or a plot point past Bob Ė 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.

Bob 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.




A Letter for My Mother
Essays from 33 female writers, including an essay by Sheila Williams

April 8, 2014

The Shade of My Own Tree

Dancing on the Edge of the Roof

On the Right Side of a Dream




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Sheila Williams
author of Girls Most Likely, On the Right Side of a Dream,
Dancing on the Edge of the Roof, and The Shade of My Own Tree