Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

The Loose & Lively Book Club

Lindsey Smallwood

I've always been a book nerd. It wasn't until recently I realized how many other people were too. I'm at Middle Places today on (re)Connecting with an ode to my first ever book club friends. 

A few years ago I was lonely. 

I found myself in a new marriage, a new house and a new job and I was struggling to find myself in all of my new contexts. I was lucky enough to have a fabulous mentor who I met for coffee a couple times a month. 

One afternoon over decaf lattes, after lamenting to Sharon how out of place I felt, how much I longed for the easy friendships of earlier seasons, she looked me square in the eye and said "What are you going to do about it?"

I was taken aback. It’s not like I hadn’t tried – at church, in my grad school seminars, over Hot Pockets in the teacher’s lounge – I’d made small talk and invitations to get together, but nothing seemed to stick. What else could I do about it?

“What do you mean?” I asked, knowing she knew the ways I’d be trying to connect, since this wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation.

“You say you’re lonely, so get some people together. You’re in charge of your life.” Sharon replied, eyebrows raised in a way that let me know she was laying something important out there for me.

“How though, Sharon? Seriously, what people can I get together?” I asked, ready with my list of reasons why forming community in the Bay Area with other 20 and 30 somethings is nearly impossible.

“What’s your absolute favorite thing to do, Linds?” she asked gently, giving me space to think for a moment before I answered.

“Read.” I said dreamily. “I have a stack of library novels next to my bed and I can plow through 2 on a Saturday afternoon. But you can’t make friends reading books.”

Did you catch that last line? Yeah, Sharon did too.

“Oh honey,” she laughed. “Let me tell you about book club.”

It sounds so strange now to think that I’d never considered starting/joining/participating in a book club, what with my love of reading, people and membership in groups. I started turning the idea over, wondering if anyone else would be interested, if this could really be a thing.

I emailed everyone I knew, classmates from graduate school, girls I taught with, friends from church, neighbors, a couple of gals who I’d mentored through campus ministry. I picked a date and a time and a book – The Hunger Games – and bought wine and cheese and crossed my fingers.

A delightfully ecclectic group gathered for our first meeting. A social worker. A special ed teacher or three. A non-profit director. Grad students of various stripes. We were Christian and Buddist and Jewish and Atheist. Most of the women in the room didn’t know each other. But we knew Katniss Everdeen and her bravery and cunning. We knew Peeta and Gale and the 12 districts of Panem and that was enough to get the ball rolling.

The Loose & Lively Book Club was born.

That little community became one of my favorite parts of the month. It didn’t even matter if the book was good – we all hated The Paris Wife but the spread of French-themed food we found to tie into the book was amazing. We tried to be ambitious in our choices, sometimes overly so, like the time we attempted The New Jim Crow but no one actually read the book so we had to nod along when a friend of a friend dropped into the meeting because she was eager to talk about the principles of race relations discussed in the weighty tome.

We liked Where’d You Go, Bernadette? so much that we went to meet the author in San Fransisco. We read Gone Girl because it’s some kind of book club rule that everyone had to read it three years ago. We geeked out over all the local references to our fair Cities by the Bay in The Circle and Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour BookstoreThe Great Gatsby was picked solely for the purpose of having a reason to go watch Leonardo DiCaprio look sultry in the new movie together.

The week I lost my first pregnancy to miscarriage I went to book club anyway, crying into the pages of The Geography of Bliss and being thankful that even though bliss felt a long way off, these women and that space were a happy place for me.

Truth? I probably wouldn’t have picked this group of friends. But thanks to a nudge from Sharon and the uniting power of Katniss Everdeen I found a tribe among book lovers like me. And for three years until our recent cross country move, we kept reading together.

Book club, you guys, it’s my jam.

It’s my way of reconnecting with the 10 year old girl inside me that could read four Babysitter’s Club books in one sitting. And doing that while building new friendships and learning new things? Just rad.

So here’s to nudges and novels and unlikely friends. Here’s to trying something new and putting yourself out there. Here’s to community and good cheese and long nights spent in laughter.

Whether it’s reading or running or cooking creme brulee, here’s to finding your tribe.


PS: Lest you worry about me, I’ve joined two (!) book clubs since arriving in Colorado. Because obviously.