LitClub:  First the Food
Greater Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina

HERE'S A GROUP that loves its food and loves its books. So what could be better than bringing the two together? But one slight hitch—the food comes first . . . always.

You've been together for over 10 years—a lot of water under a lot of bridges.
Yes, a lot has happened. We started when we were in our 20s—in grad school or first jobs. Since then, we've had weddings, births, new relationships, new jobs—some at-home as moms and some heading back to the workforce. A lot of changes.

Tell us about the food first.
We eat first. Everyone brings a dish—signing up on our website to avoid duplication. Sometimes we tie our menus to books:

Water for Elephants—circus food, including individual bags of pop-corn, peanuts, etc.

Dracula—Bloody Marys, garlic bread, and a red velvet cake in the shape of a bat!

Beloved—cornbread, fish, collard greens, among other things. We took it from the feast scene in the book.

Fast Food Nation—homemade versions of...what else, fast food.

What's your "March Mystery Month? It sounds cool.
It's our favorite tradition. We pick a "whodunit" mystery for every March. But only one member finishes the book. She tells the rest of us where to stop—before all is revealed. We all read to the stopping point and come to the meeting with our theories on who committed the crime and why. Even it's a lousy mystery, it's always fun.

Give us an idea of what you've read.
Here's our 2007-08 list:

The Alchemist
Suite Francaise
Dreams From My Father
Post-Birthday World
Kate Vaiden
Virgin of Small Plains
Water for Elephants
Anna Karenina
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
The Feminine Mistake by Leslie Bennetts
Evening by Susan Minot

Any favorites over the years?
Our top vote getters of all the books we’ve read have been...

Handmaid’s Tale
Jane Eyre
Time Traveler’s Wife
East of Eden
Blind Assassin

Best discussions?
These are some books that led to our best discussions:

Then there's Eat, Pray, Love—which covers just about any topic you can think of!

Any disappointments?
Surprisingly, Anna Karenina! Many of us are distressed that so many female characters in classic literature seem to be so little in control of their destiny. They fall in love, and then describe the rest of events as things that happen to them, feelings beyond their control. Some of us observe this in more contemporary literature, such as The Post-Birthday World and Little Children.

Liz thinks that this is why she loves Jane Eyre so much. Jane feels that pull to Mr. Rochester very intensely, but she still makes an explicit choice to leave him, then to be with him again.

What about outside regular meetings?
We do lots of things: we go out to dinner or to movies—especially if it's an adaptation of a book we've read. We took a long weekend trip to the beach to celebrate our 10th anniversary, something we now plan on doing every year.

We have surprise wedding showers, and baby showers when we each give the mother-to-be a children's book. In December we have a holiday party for spouses and children, when we have white-elephant book exchanges from our own bookshelves.

We now have a 2nd book exchange for the kids.

How do you select your books?
We follow a set of three guidelines:

  1. We choose monthly, two-at-a-time, which gives busy moms a way to schedule their reading more easily.
  2. We alternate our picks by working our way down the list of members.
  3. We have one hard-fast rule: to choose, you must have been at 3 of the past 4 meetings. Seems a little harsh, but we've had some members come to a few meetings, choose a book, and then not show up when their book was discussed...or ever again!

So what's this thing about Kevin Bacon? He's in your group, or something?
Well, no, that would be nice, but.... We've recruited friends and friends-of-friends, and most of us knew only one, two, or three others. But it turns out that Marina is like "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. She joined in 2005 and has independent connections to nearly everyone in the group—she's related through roommates, boyfriends, best friends, sisters, brothers, husbands, college friends, work colleagues—you name it. She gets around.

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