The town I live in has spawned several Book Clubs, largely because of the rather meagre holdings of the municipal library. These clubs also serve an important role in the lives of women of all ages: a legitimate excuse to abandon their families once a month to enjoy the company of friends who share a love of reading.

I was fortunate to be a member of a wonderful group of women who shared a genuine love of reading as well as a healthy disregard for pretentiousness. We shared the books we liked and felt comfortable enough with each other not to mind the cut-and-thrust of healthy criticism of our choices whilst feeling pleased when our choices were hailed as being good ones. Our conversations were generally sparked off by the books we read and ran in so many different directions that by the end of an evening we felt mentally stimulated and our souls were enriched. I use the past tense for my Book Club, already ailing from a haemorrhage of members moving out of town after their retirement, is unlikely to survive the long pandemic-induced lockdown social restrictions.

The name inside the cover of a second-hand book reminded me of a particular Book Club that we tended to regard as being ‘rather snooty’. Potential members were vetted for their suitability in terms of their social status and the intellectual level of their reading matter. We all knew some of them – really pleasant individuals: university lecturers, librarians, wives of the legal or medical fraternity, and even a few heads of departments from local private schools. It appeared to us that one had to have some ‘standing’ within the community to be accepted there – no wonder we laughed.

Private conversations revealed that several members of this Book Club were in awe of the woman whose name is in this second-hand book. As a university professor, she was their ‘highest ranked’ member. She held fixed views and hated to be criticised. It appeared that her opinion about books and authors were paramount.

She was an interesting person in her own right. While outwardly successful, with a fine house and an upmarket car to show for it, she nonetheless remained needy. She was needy in terms of demanding her share of the limelight. Professionally, she was driven and competitive. She volunteered to serve on any committee that would bring her into, or keep her within, the sphere of ‘power’. She needed to be close to what she regarded as the most powerful people within her academic field; she needed to rub social shoulders with the financially ‘better off’ and what she regarded as ‘influential’ members of our small society.

This woman was sure to be seen at every book launch, opening of an art exhibition, charity events and social functions that she perceived would benefit her profile. There were many who sniggered at her fixed smile, sparkling gold jewellery and carefully styled hairdo. She always dressed impeccably. Some of her professional colleagues wilted under her sharp tongue – they didn’t often experience the charm she turned on in public. We knew that several members of her Book Club sighed with relief whenever she wasn’t able to attend a meeting.

Retirement hit this woman hard for with it she lost a public platform on which to parade. Our town is filled with retired academics, so they are not regarded with any  of the ‘awe’ she thought she ought to enjoy. Adding to her woes was the pandemic which kept us all at home for nearly two years. She wrote papers for any online journal that would accept one, but this didn’t give her the public exposure she craved. She turned her hand to creative writing, which helped to raise her profile within a very small writing circle. It pained her when so few people recognised her or greeted her when she walked around the suburbs once the pandemic restrictions were eased to allow exercise. The pandemically-induced social restrictions cheated her out of hosting a glittering farewell when she and her husband decided to leave town. Her final ‘hurrah’ was not to be.

Hers is one of the Book Clubs that has survived the pandemic. After years of kow-towing to her ‘superior views’, the members now laugh a lot more; they tease each other; they feel free to choose a wide variety of books simply for the pleasure of reading instead of as an intellectual exercise; they argue about books and authors – and they are all very happy.


30 thoughts on “A SECOND-HAND BOOK REVEALS … I

  1. My gosh, what a story! We certainly are status-obsessed primates, aren’t we? I am, however, curious about the title of the book if you feel it wouldn’t be giving too much away. If you do, no worries.


    • Our town is a small one, so I will remain schtum about the title. According to the card left inside the book, only one other member read it – small wonder that it ended up in a charity shop! I will be taking it there soon too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was working, I was chair of the college’s art committee. My criteria for being a member: artist or art education but most importantly, someone with whom I would want to have dinner or a drink. Because it wasn’t just about the art, but the social element, without which the delight would become a chore. Your story reflects that approach. I wish you the opportunity to find a book club and renew those delightful gatherings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our Book Club hasn’t officially died yet and may yet be resuscitated with time. Thank you for this sensible contribution – your approach is a sensible one.


  3. What a sad story! I have jknown several people like her and none of them was popular! Maybe now you could join the ‘posh’ book club? Or form a new one. A network of friends who between them meet all our needs is essential to wellbeing I think.


    • I agree with you wholeheartedly about the necessity of a network of friends who ‘between them meet all our needs’. The pandemic-related social restrictions have prevented us from meeting in each other’s homes for two years. I trust that once it becomes easier to do so we might well get together again. I hope so, for the core members have been meeting for 28 years already 🙂 We don’t ‘do’ posh, but are all very down to earth people.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A beautiful story about an inspiring woman. Through your writing I have got to know her a little bit too and I am truly grateful for that. Thank you so much for sharing.
    I knew a lady just like her, I adored her for reasons I could never really explain, but tried it once in a post. She was my teacher, she was different in many ways. I always thought of her as sad, because I didn’t understand her way of living. Years later, right before I moved away from Europe, I stopped at my old boarding school and to this day I don’t know what hit me, I went by my teachers house and knocked.
    She welcomed me like an old friend, we spent the afternoon together. To this day I don’t know how I had the guts to knock. She wasn’t sad, she just didn’t like the majority of people and the older I get, the more I understand why.


  5. That was an interesting tale about an interesting character. It reminds me of the art world which I have found during my short exposure can be a very cliquey place.


  6. Anne, I love the above comments about “this woman” and her insecurity that emerged in unattractive ways, compromising the give and take one wants in a book club. Would you take a chance on mine? I am finishing a memoir titled either “Sacred Flaw” or “Love and Seven Dyings”… a Memoir of Mental Illness as Heroine’s Journey. I would be honored if either or both of your book clubs would volunteer reading a few chapters, half or all of it, 375 pages at this point. I am working on cutting. What fun to think a group of readers in So. Africa might be discussing my “book” unpublished at this point. “That woman” would not have stooped so low as to read something unpublished!! But she is gone?


  7. An empty soul, by the sounds of it. One almost pities that type, they must feel so empty and fearful inside. My book club didn’t survive the pandemic either. Might be time to start a new one.


  8. I have never liked snobby people, nor name droppers and I’ve met plenty in my day. This was an interesting post Anne – it made me think back to a cast of characters I’ve known through the years and are no longer part of my life.


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