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· Reading Rendezvous ·
It was good for me to get back to the monthly Reading Rendezvous Book Club at Metropolitan Coffee in Hutchinson, Kansas.
If you’ve never been a part of a group discussing books, you may not realize that success starts with amazing leaders. Miriam Bebe Kitson and Rebecca Shetler co-share that responsibility at Metropolitan http://www.metrocoffeehutch.com. They are excellent on many levels, including being prepared, welcoming, curious, flexible, interesting, and intelligent.
Thursday night we had seven people in our discussion group. It’s always fascinating to me how we never have the same group of participants two months in a row. They’re probably many reasons for this happening:
- People are so busy that they have to make tough choices. Sometimes Book Club doesn’t make the cut.
- If club members don’t finish the book, sometimes they believe they are unprepared to join the discussion.
- Often the richness of the book increases the urgency to attend. A reader simply must show up to discuss it.
Book clubs are all different. The Reading Rendezvous group, (online at Facebook & Instagram), hosted by Hutch in Harmony https://hutchinharmony.wordpress.com/, focuses on injustice, so it attracts people of a particular mindset. It discusses a different book each month.
A friend told me recently that she belongs to a women’s book club where the members start with socializing and eating. After the meal each participant is invited to summarize two or three books she has read. The books can be of any genre.
Another local book club, the one at Delos V. Smith Senior Center http://www.delossrcenter.org, meets weekly and only discusses one or two chapters at a time. I’m a slow reader, but not that slow.
Of course there are book clubs that specialize in a particular genre. The Hutchinson Public Library http://www.hutchpl.org has two book discussion groups: Science Fiction and Mystery Mavens.
The Mystery Book Club at https://bluebirdbookstore.indielite.org Bluebird Bookstore meets monthly.
Bookends http://bookendshutch.com hosts a women’s reading group called The Escape Book Club. You have to read fast to join them. They meet every two weeks.
Our Reading Rendezvous group recently discussed Kindred (1979) by Octavia E. Butler. Most of us were surprised that we hadn’t heard of this prolific author. Butler died too young in 2014. She was 58.
Often there are a few participants who haven’t completed the book but show up anyway. That’s totally understandable and acceptable. Just showing up means a person is ready to participate. After all, this ain’t school and no one gets hit with a ruler.
When we started our discussion on Kindred, we all agreed that it had been impossible to put down until we completed it! Now, that’s an endorsement.
Usually the Rendezvous Reading club only reads and reviews non-fiction books, but Kindred was an exception because Butler was superb at using fiction to examine human race issues. Set in the contemporary world of 1976, two of the main characters are married, woman and husband. Dana is African American, Kevin is Caucasian.
When I learned that Dana and Kevin unwillingly time-traveled to the antebellum South, I wondered if the fantasy or science fiction genre would make it less compelling for me. But after reading the preface, I was immediately hooked! The author was so talented that I accepted the novel’s time-travel as a natural plotting device.
When Butler put ancestors and descendants face-to-face, she forced the reader to compare and contrast the inhumane conditions of legal American slavery with our imperfect contemporary world.
One discussion question listed in the reader’s guide asks: “How does she [Butler] challenge us to consider boundaries of black/white, master/slave, husband/wife, past/present?”
We discussed how white supremacy, whether 200 years ago or today, has negative consequences for people of all races, including Caucasian.
A participant recalled a quote by James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed…but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
The white slave holders we met in Kindred considered themselves as good and fair people. The fact that they owned African American slaves meant that legally they could do as they wished with them. Whites, not blacks, had rights. After all, the reasoning went, slaves were property, not people. A slave owner could torture, rape, and kill with impunity.
In discussion, our group tried to answer an unanswerable question: “How could a parent endure after their children were sold?”
Characters Dana and Kevin learned about the depths of depravity during slavery, but they also learned that the longer they visited the past the easier it became for them to accept the harsh realities of that period. Just like real slaves and slave owners, our time travelers adapted to their circumstances in order to survive. Dana and Kevin surprised themselves. Something as evil as slavery wasn’t simple. It wasn’t just black and white, but it was traumatic and created contradictory emotions.
Our club members discussed the inequalities of today, especially in regards to race. Some gave examples of friends of color and others of ethnic diversity who continue to experience bias, bigotry, and/or racism.
Unfortunately but understandably, there are still huge gaps between what people of different tribes believe. Some people believe racism no longer exists. They don’t see it or feel it. So why talk about it? When they’re told by someone, especially the media, that its history and should be left in the past, they agree.
Our reading group often includes a call for action. Sometimes we discuss how to approach people who think differently than us, especially on the subject of race. We’ve agreed that our best opportunities are with people who already share some of our experiences and stories, who look or act similar to us.
When I was growing up there were three topics that were regarded as topics to avoid discussing in public: religion, politics, and sex. I don’t remember race being on the list. With most people I still prefer to avoid controversial topics, but I understand there’s a need for civil discourse because peaceful dialogue can open hearts and minds.
It’s sad and it’s complicated but sometimes racially charged discussions can lead to broken hearts. Friends, even family members, have been lost because of opposing belief systems. But, as one participant said, “If you can’t be honest with someone, then that’s not a safe relationship.”
I really enjoy the book discussions because it’s about more than the book. Our group is a safe place to question and share our beliefs. Everyone has permission to speak their truth without being judged. That’s pretty amazing, especially today.
There’s always room for more people at Reading Rendezvous. Come join us!
Until next time, happy writing and reading!