Actually, this book club isn’t called the “No Regrets” Book Club. I don’t think it has an official name, but I thought that should be its name because when I asked the members to tell me their favorite and least favorite selections, I got variations on this response:
There has not been a single book that I have regretted reading and I have learned something from every book and everyone in the group through our discussions, even involving books we haven’t liked very much.
I love this group’s attitude, energy, and enthusiasm — not to mention their longevity. They’ve been going strong for almost 20 years and have read about 180 books — classics, poetry, plays, memoirs, and of course, current fiction and nonfiction. They are open to reading almost anything they think will inspire good conversation. Members of the group have come and gone throughout the years, but there is a core group of about 12 women — including two published authors!
The “No Regrets” readers have planned many creative book-related field trips. They have attended the Chicago Humanities Festival, where Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) was a speaker. They have gone to the Steppenwolf Theater to see The Book Thief adapted as a play and to the local multiplex to see the movie version of The Great Gatsby. When a book club selection is set in another country known for its cuisine (France, Japan, China . . .), of course they must meet in an appropriate restaurant. And they have attended events at Lake Forest College and local libraries.
Every September, the group chooses books to read for the next nine months. Each member brings book suggestions and presents them to the group. The selection is democratic — the books with the most votes win. They always make sure to include a classic and a nonfiction book. Here’s their reading list for this fall and winter:
- Me Before You (Jojo Moyes) — contemporary fiction
- The Heretic’s Daughter (Kathleen Kent) — historical fiction
- Listening Below the Noise: The Transformative Power of Silence (Anne LeClaire) — spirituality
- The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) — classic children’s fiction
- The Fault in Our Stars (John Green) — YA
- The End of Your Life Book Club (Will Schwalbe) — memoir
What an interesting and diverse list! “A little something for everyone,” said a member. I particularly loved The End of Your Life Book Club — I’ll be curious to hear about that discussion. The book is a tender, moving memoir of Will Schwalbe’s deep and abiding relationship with his mother, and how books brought them even closer together. It’s a celebration of the transformative power of books. Reading is a solitary activity — but, as all book club members know, there is joy in sharing the books that you love. J.R. Moehringer, author of The Tender Bar, has this to say about The End of Your Life Book Club:
Will Schwalbe’s brave and soulful elegy to his remarkable mother, his recollection of their sparklingly literate conversations, is a timely reminder that one exceptional person, or one exceptional book, can be a torch in the darkness.
In November, the group meets at Lake Forest Book Store for a book review night to get a head start on Christmas shopping. (As Garrison Keillor said, “A book is a gift you can open again and again”.) In December, the regular discussion is followed by a wrapped paperback grab bag: “It is great fun and everyone tries to bring interesting books to choose from,” according to a member.
The last meeting of the book club year takes place in June, when they meet at Ragdale, an artists’ community and retreat located on the country estate of architect Howard Van Doren Shaw. The porch of the main house provides a beautiful place to enjoy dinner, and the library is a cozy and peaceful spot for a book discussion . . . and, I imagine, reflection on a wonderful year of reading and friendship.
- Crossing to Safety (Wallace Stegner)
- Cutting for Stone (Abraham Verghese)
- To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
- The Samurai’s Garden (Gail Tsukiyama)
- Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen)
- Year of Wonders (Geraldine Brooks)
- Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
- The Red Tent (Anita Diamant)
- The Aviator’s Wife (Melanie Benjamin) paired with A Gift From the Sea (Anne Morrow Lindbergh)
Special thanks to Leeni Ellis for telling me about her wonderful book club!