So, a few years ago my cousin came up with a great idea: start a family book club! My family is blessed with a week together every year between Christmas and New Year’s — my grandpa started this tradition in 1973 when I was 3 1/2 (I’m the oldest grandchild) and it has continued without interruption to today (I’m 38). We started with 12 – my grandparents, mom and dad, aunts and uncles, myself, my sister, and my cousin Susan – and now include 24 (soon to be 25!), as my cousins have married and had children.
We rarely go to the same exact spot twice and have covered Mexico, the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Barbados, St. Thomas, Aruba, Florida, California, Texas, Hawaii, and many other warm spots. Our most recent destination was Puerto Rico.
The true gift of my grandpa’s idea was the ability to touch base and really catch up with one another at least once year. Most of my family lives in Michigan, but three cousins live in Chicago and my sister and I live in the Twin Cities, so the ability to reconnect beyond a superficial check-in at the holidays has resulted in cousins who are siblings and relationships that have survived distance and time.
Seven years ago, inspired by Oprah’s book club, my cousin Libby decided that we should start our own family trip book club, and we selected The House of Sand and Fog (which was entirely too dark and disturbing for our family!) as our first choice. So, before dinner on New Year’s Eve we gathered for a refreshing beverage and sparkling conversation and the family book club was born!
Our second choice was To Kill A Mockingbird. After the horrors of Sand and Fog, Mockingbird seemed a safe bet since it is an accepted American classic, even 9th graders tend to enjoy it, and Oprah had just attempted to get the entire city of Chicago to read it. And, as most of us know, it is simply a good read — interesting and controversial enough even today to spark conversation.
We have since read: All Over But the Shoutin by Rick Bragg, The Devil in White City by Erik Larson, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez, The Innocent Man by John Grisham and this year’s selection: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. We have occasionally embraced non–fiction in an attempt to lure the male family members to join us (we tend to have one or two of the 8 males make an appearance). My husband was the “token male” this year and recommended a return to fiction next year. Since the family book club is entirely voluntary, the criteria for our choices tends to be something that can be read during the family trip, something that interests a wide variety of people, and something that sparks discussion.
This year, our discussion tended to focus on how much good one individual can do with perseverance and dedication, the balance everyone must find between our public and private lives, and the political situation in Pakistan (due to the assassination of Bhutto that occurred during our vacation). What I always take away from our discussion is how, despite knowing someone from birth (whether their birth or my own), hidden facets of personality are revealed when confronted with the experience of another – whether fictional or not. How often do we sit down with well-known family members and ask, “Is it appropriate to spend months away from home and immediate family if your mission is to help countless others?” This utilitarian question – the sacrifice of one for many – is fascinating and gets beyond “So, how’s your job?” The safety of discussing another’s thoughts or journey reveals where we are on our own journeys as we “read ourselves” into the work.
We usually decide on our work by Thanksgiving and are always looking for good choices – any suggestions of fiction (or non) that would appeal to men and women and doesn’t venture too far into the dark side? And thanks for a great idea, Libby!