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Enterprise Journal

Book Club: 'an incremental step toward greater awareness'

Sep 01, 2020 01:00PM ● By Kurt Meyer
About 15 years ago, four male friends and I decided to do something that had become rather fashionable at the time: form a book club. I’m pleased to report, we’re still going strong.

Perhaps one reason for our tenure is that we’ve consciously sought to be flexible, enabling us to navigate a few transitions. By our crude estimate, we’re somewhere between our 50th and 60th book, this vagueness due to our failure to appoint a record-keeper in our early days. And our ranks have expanded; there are now six of us, scheduling around busy calendars, meeting irregularly every three or four months, usually on a Sunday evening. 

Consciously or subconsciously, our group shares a fair number of qualities, for example, our age, within fifteen years, from youngest to oldest member. We’re white-collar, college-educated professionals, married to career-minded women. Throughout our first decade, we were all of the same political party; a more recent member means we can now claim partisan diversity, expanding (sometimes animating) our conversations. It’s probably worth noting, we’re all practicing Lutherans, including two ordained clergy plus one member having studied theology in seminary.  

When we gather, as we did last Sunday, we do focus intently on the book we selected for at least an hour, sometimes considerably more. We just read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, the primary thrust of which is outlined on its cover, “…. why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism.” It was not hard for us to talk about the book and many poignant, personal reactions were shared. 

This column is not a book report, but rather a capsule of the 15-year development of our group. If the act of reading a book tends to open one’s mind, first reading and then discussing a book with colleagues expands this opening. Thoughtful, honest reactions are transformed into fresh, valuable perspectives. 

We have not yet assembled without a comment similar to, “That hadn’t occurred to me until you mentioned it.” Sometimes the insight is about the book; sometimes it’s about the reader. For instance, when discussing “White Fragility,” our Republican colleague mentioned being so moved by the civil rights struggle in the 1960s that he traveled to Selma, Alabama, to participate in protests. 

WHAT?!? I’ve known this man for some time, yet, frankly, I was startled to hear this. If we had not been observing social-distance guidelines, I might have hugged him!   

A long-time female friend once observed that a woman will share more with a complete stranger at a bus stop than a man will share with his best friend during the course of a year. The comment is obviously hyperbole, nevertheless, there’s a kernel of truth here, too.   

In our group, “What did you think of the book?” prompts six men to share opinions and ideas, thoughts and feelings, good and bad. Time together builds trust. Trust generates acceptance. And acceptance instills support within the group and a commitment to one another. 

Fifteen years ago, five casual acquaintances pledged to read and discuss a book of our collective choosing every few months. The fruits of this endeavor include an expanding series of books we’ve encountered, alternating between fiction and non-fiction, soon to include “Angle of Repose” by Wallace Stegner, my recommendation for our November gathering. An equally important outcome is a series of durable relationships characterized by understanding and trust, acceptance and support. 

With all that’s happening in the world nowadays, much of it disheartening and difficult to comprehend or counteract, our book club represents an incremental step toward greater awareness and deeper, durable friendships. It’s modest progress for which I am most grateful.     

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