Reading a good book is a lot like tasting a delicious recipe. The flavors and textures are so remarkable, so distinct, that one can hardly wait to share bites with others to hear their responses.
For the avid readers in Walla Walla's many book clubs, a desire to share the flavors and textures of books draws members together. But when it comes to the reasons why they value the experience, books are only half of the story.
Book club members enjoy the intellectual and social stimulation that a diverse group of people provides and the sense of camaraderie that develops as they meet.
Removed from the years of reading for school, it's easy and somewhat natural to become surrounded by people and information that are comfortable, that suit a person's particular philosophy and lifestyle. One doesn't have to be challenged.
But book club discussions can revive a spirit of exploration and appreciation of the unfamiliar - all from the comfort of a cozy chair with a cup of tea or a glass of wine in hand and a bite of dessert on the tongue.
"I look forward to the personal background comments that add a richness to a book or topic that I would never discover on my own," shares Linda Brown, member of a book club established through the American Association of University Women.
"There is a depth of connection during discussions that I don't find in many of my other activities. Reading is powerful, exhausting, challenging and fun! Sharing all of that is more so."
Alice MacDonald, also a member of the AAUW group, concurs.
"Being nudged to read something I might not have chosen but found delightful (or not) is a good reason to belong. Hearing about a book, an author, or a place I might not have known anything about is part of lifelong learning and I've gained something from attending even if I haven't read the book. Learning to be tolerant and accepting of other people's opinions is an important and ongoing life lesson, and we have certainly entertained many diverse feelings, thoughts and opinions in our meetings."
The AAUW book club has been meeting for 28 years, evolving and changing over time to include a second club that meets over lunch rather than evenings.
The group attracts a large cross-section of the community with diverse ages, professions and interests.
At the Walla Walla Country Club, an evening discussion over drinks led to the formation of a book group that has been meeting for two years. This group has paired some of its refreshments with specific books, such as kimchi and beef bulgogi for a discussion of "Honolulu" by Alan Brennert, aquavit for Steig Larsson's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" and English biscuits for "One Day" by David Nicholls.
The group reads the selection chosen for entering first-year Whitman College students at the end of each summer to take advantage of the author visits to campus in the fall, such as Thomas Mullen's "The Last Town on Earth."
Member Sara Michelson shares, "Personally, I like the pressure of having to finish a book … it keeps me motivated to read on a daily basis and so does a good book!"
Most book clubs follow a similar format. Members take turns choosing books, leading discussion and sometimes hosting the group in their homes. Forgiveness is granted to those who haven't managed to get through the book and attendance is encouraged regardless.
Some discussion leaders strive to provide interesting background information on the book and author, then allow the discussion to flow from there. Some books are purchased new, while others are checked out from local libraries or gleaned from the used shelves of Earthlight Books and other bookstores.
After years of reading selections from her out-of-town sisters' book clubs, Jennifer Eskil started a local book club in 2004. Starting with a group of women she knew who liked to read, she expanded by introducing herself to women she saw with books in hand. In addition to monthly meetings, this group has an annual four-day "Ski and Read" trip to a family cabin that allows members time to enjoy both passions.
Recent favorite reads from this group include "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horan, "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese and "The Help" by Kathryn Stockett.
The next generation of book club women are cutting their teeth in two mother-daughter book clubs in town, one made up of sixth-grade girls and one with fourth-graders.
Book choices for these groups are largely determined by the girls' interests, with a maternal eye for content that will be conducive to good discussion. In addition to having lots of fun, the girls gain experience with sharing their opinions in a small group - especially if they felt strongly about a book.
"I like that everyone, moms and daughters, can share what they liked and disliked about the book. I also think it's awesome that everyone gets a chance to choose a book to read as a group," says Stella Gryler, sixth-grader at Garrison Middle School.
Mothers and daughters remarked on the special bond that reading the same book creates.
"It's really fun when both mothers and daughters can read fun books together and get to know a different side of each other," says Katie Jo Harvey, a fourth-grader at Sharpstein Elementary School. Mothers enjoy the opportunity to hear their daughters interact with their peers and share their thoughts and feelings on different topics in a non-intrusive way.
More than any other benefit, book clubs give readers an excuse to ignore the dishes, the dust bunnies and the cares of the day and get lost in the pages of a book, in the name of being prepared for the next gathering.
And that makes any book lover's day.
Book Club Resources
The Walla Walla Public Library and other local libraries have book club starter kits for loan.
Online book reviews and finalist lists for the National Book Award, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Newbury Award (for children's literature) are good places to find good reads.
Ask your bookstore if they give a discount for book club orders. Book and Game offers a 10 percent discount.