'Tis the Best of THings: Part One
by Patty Morwood
It could be a flight to Paris, the first grandchild, a sunny spot in your garden. For me, it’s my literary club. Not book club mind you, … there’s a world of differences.
Literary groups are characterized by a commitment to the world’s classics; my club especially is marked by its anglophile-ish tastes, although our younger women welcome modernity’s literature from non-European countries quite well thank you. This Literary Club for Christian Women of Letters was established in March of 1990. There were four of us founders in whose lives much has transpired since that day we sat at Funky’s eating baked potato soup and dreaming aloud of sharing great reads together.
Elizabeth’s perspectives have always come from a deep well of love for the Lord, His people, and His ways; she helps us appreciate real life with and without the Lord that’s inadvertently presented in great novels. Jenny has homeschooled all thirteen years of her four kids’ educational experience, so she is knowledgeable about a wide range of things that add invaluably to our conversations. Karen, a true literary analysist, has since been a missionary in Africa and returned back to us. And I, not really a deep thinker but a woman with huge opinions, have taught literature and humanities at a classical school, taking much insight from our literary discussions with me into the classroom.
We are committed and stalwart pillars of an ongoing literary effort. We schedule ‘literary’ before we add the rest of life to our calendars.
And as the years flew by, God brought rich-minded women to walk this grand imaginative road with us. We are young, middle-aged, and older women who delight in opening the cover of a good book so we can analyze and discuss, disagree and debate, and stand in awe as the same author speaks to each of us right into the heart of our literary imaginations.
What constitutes a good group? I recommend you make it a literary pursuit. Typically, book clubs like to read best-selling authors or reads written for the masses. You know those lists, they’re commonly found in USA Today.
But literary clubs are different. We are committed to literature that nations offer as their very best. We only wish our own lives could be longer.
England’s Austen and Shakespeare and Dickens, as well as Wilde, Ishiguro, Goldsmith, Fielding and Lewis always leave us wanting more … another read-through or another English book. Sir Walter Scott wrote historical novels that grow such an honorable love of country and one’s history that I’m thanking God for his continued popularity. Scotland produced the great Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Gothic mysteries, psychological character studies, historical adventures and romances. France gave us Stendhal, Flaubert, Hugo, de Balzac, and Dumas. Germany lent Kafka, Goethe, Remarque. I think the cultured world has read Russia’s greatest – Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Turgenev and Pasternak – with a breaking heart. The joy and suffering of the Russian people is too much for a regular diet; they must be read only every now and then. South Africa’s Cry the Beloved Country by Patton will lift the souls of future readers with hope and love and beauty. I hope I’ll hear insights about that book until I die. Spain adores her Cervantes; Italy her Dante, Eco, and Calvino. And we adore Norway’s Sigrid Undset, since we read the Kristen Lavransdatter series once and then twice more. A few years later, we capitulated willingly to the lure of her Master of Hestviken tetralogy. Undset’s works show us Norway of the 1100s, the very century when the light of Christianity finally began to penetrate the great Viking darkness. We barely walked into Japan before we wept over Endo’s Silence, now a visually lacerating motion picture. We marveled over the creativity of India’s Salmon Rushdie and his fantastical realism.
Then there’s America. How does one only mention three or five or even twenty-five books from this place? We’re unique, for our culture and character are so new, so gregarious and so confident. It would demand an entire blog entry to address American literary giants.
I wonder if our literary club can ever scratch beyond the surface of all this wonderful literary heritage from the nations. Though we have been reading together for twenty-seven years, twelve months a year, we have only barely begun.
You may ask: where do you find these wonders? The great classics occupy musty shelves in our public libraries, and the digitals of our computers and smart phones. You can pick them up for a few dollars at used book stores, and even in antique stores and flea markets.
You may also ask: how do we squeeze them into our lives? We women can do almost everything with a book on hand … walk the Pacific Coast Trail, hike mountains and trudge deserts. Or rock a baby, weed the garden, and even bake a loaf of bread. One of our gals leaves her book for that month’s discussion on the kitchen counter all day … open. A grabbed five or ten minutes can add up to quite a few pages. Books fit into back packs and purses, diaper bags, glove compartments, and flat little Kindles. Sometimes they’re lamentably lost under the couch or left in a locker over the holidays.
But always these authors and their portrayals of human nature hide in the recesses of our minds, latent until they occasionally shout into our own life stories.
‘Tis surely the best of the best of things: to read, think, write, discuss, and read again.
O the glories of being human. The bliss of very very good books. And girlfriends to share them with.
Part Two: Establishing a Literary Club
Part Three: Personal Benefits of Participating in a Literary Club
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