Three things happened when I climbed off my bicycle in Sacramento during the second week of September in 1990. First, I met Peggy and promptly fell in love. (It took me five seconds; Peggy was more like five months. She liked the look of a guy in tight bicycle shorts who had just biked 10,000 miles but was a little concerned about the sanity of a guy who would do such a thing. Rightfully so.)
Two, I was seriously hassled for being one week late. Mind you, I had just travelled for six months on a solo journey around North America. An extra seven days didn’t seem like a big deal. To be fair, however, time is different for someone sitting in an air-conditioned office eight hours a day than it is for someone sitting on the back of a bicycle and peddling 50–100 miles a day through every type of terrain and weather North America has to offer.
The third thing that happened is the subject of today’s post. My friend Ken Lake informed me that a meeting of the Bigger Sacramento Book Club, more fondly known as the BS Book Club, or simply the BSBC was coming up. Ken had started the book club and recruited me as a member in the fall of 1988, a few months before I started my bike odyssey.
The rules, Ken had explained, were simple. Members of the BSBC would rotate having the book club meet at their homes. The host would pick the book, provide the main course, and supply whatever alcohol was to be consumed. Other members would provide hors d’oevres, salad, veggies, dessert and breads— plus any insights they had on the book.
So far it sounded like a standard dinner/book club. And then Ken mentioned the other rule: You didn’t have to read the book. Maybe you ran out of time or couldn’t struggle your way through the first chapter. Fine. It was after all, the BS Book Club. You didn’t even have to confess. I laughed and signed on the imaginary dotted line. I even remember the first meeting. The book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of our members hadn’t read the book but had brought Cliff Notes. We gave him an appropriately hard time. When he insisted on discussing the motif, things got even more raucous. It set the tone for future meetings.
So, even though I was still wearing my bike clothes, wasn’t sure where I was going to live, and didn’t own a car, I told Ken that of course I would be at BSBC. And could I please bring something that didn’t require cooking.
It was a while before I was ready to choose a book and host the book club, however. Living with a former girlfriend while pursuing Peggy made things a little, um, awkward. Finally, I obtained my own apartment in downtown Sacramento and hosted my first ever BSBC, on a couch and folding chairs. People ate off their laps. The book was an old favorite of mine: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. If you haven’t read it and enjoy offbeat humor, add it to your list.
By 1992 membership had settled down to five couples, the same five couples who are members today. It’s an interesting mix of people including two teachers, a physician, two prevention specialists, a principal, a judge, an office manager, a pilot/man of many trades, and me— a person of even more trades. (Most of us are semi-retired now.) Our politics range from sort of out there to moderate. It’s amazing we have hung out together as a book club, not to mention as couples for a quarter of a century. I once mentioned the odds against all of us still being married to the same person. “We could never get divorced,” one of the couples responded. “We don’t know who would get book club.”
They were semi-serious.
To date, BSBC has read 217 books and two magazine collections. We have also watched five movies and been on three side trips that didn’t involve reading or watching anything. That’s a total of 227 meetings.
These days it is more difficult to get together. One couple lives in France six months out of the year, another has moved to the Bay Area, and Peggy and I are living in Oregon. But we still manage. BSBC has priority.
I asked Ken and his wife Leslie why they thought the book club has survived for so long. The essence of their reply was that BSBC’s long continuity reflects the depth of the friendships that have evolved over time and the informality of our approach to books. The club is as much, or possibly more, of a social gathering than it is a discussion of books. Ken described our meetings as “free flowing within a structure of friendship.” And free flow they do. A full hour’s discussion on the book out of a four-hour evening means people really liked the book.
For fun today, I’ve posted photos of Peggy and my BSBC bookshelves that contain about half of the books we have read over the years. If you look at these shelves closely, you will see the breadth of books we read. They reflect the very different tastes in books of ten different people. We all end up reading in genres that we normally wouldn’t. We are constantly being introduced to new authors and new ideas. And that, along with the friendships, is what our book club is about.