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Constance Alexander: As social distancing drags on, book club thrives in the company of busy women

Sex, religion, race, money, men, marriage, kids, murder, politics, abuse, abandonment, addiction, romance, and real-life are just some of the topics my book group tackles each month. If the reading selection does not address those issues, no problem. Fueled by words, wine, an array of sweet snacks and some chocolate, we manage to discuss the book at hand, while also touching on current events at home, at work, and in the world.

We take turns hosting the monthly get-togethers and also share responsibility for leading the discussions. The mood is informal and collegial, but it can swing from serious to silly, intense to irreverent, high-brow to down-and-dirty, all in about ninety minutes. When it is time to go home, I am always energized and inspired by the range of insights and ideas shared in the group.

Because of COVID-19, we have not met since February, but book club members — busier than ever – recently took time to chime in via email about how they are doing and what they are reading.

Most have already finished the April selection, “The Giver of Stars” by JoJo Moyes, and some are also recommending “Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson. Both books tell stories about the Packhorse Librarians that flourished in the mountains of eastern Kentucky in the 1930s and 40s, bringing books and hope to those living in a different kind of isolation than what we are experiencing today.

Many in our group add other books to their monthly reads. For instance, one of our members has been enjoying a series by Laurie Halse Anderson about two young slaves in New York, during the Revolutionary War. “Chains” follows the life of a female slave, and “Forge” features a young black male who ended up in the army at Valley Forge.

“There is lots of historical information incorporated into the stories,” the reader wrote, adding that they are “easy reads and interesting stories.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Exploring some of the same themes, “Washington Black,” by Esi Edugyan follows a young slave from Barbados who finds a completely different life that includes adventure and science. Personal freedom is balanced against cultural and societal expectations, and one reviewer claims, “Readers may well be tempted to read this book twice.”

Another work that got good reviews from a group member was “The Indigo Girl” by Natasha Boyd. Although it fits in the category of Historical Fiction, the story is about a real person, Eliza Lucas, who was credited with bringing indigo into production on a South Carolina plantation.

Anne Patchett’s newest, “The Dutch House” is on the book club list for later in the year, but a few of the group members have already read it. One critique claimed it was “a slow read,” but another has listened to Tom Hanks read the novel on Audible with no complaints.

Besides reading, our group has completed a hefty list of domestic tasks during the quarantine. Closets have been cleaned, old clothes sorted, gardens weeded, rooms scoured down and sanitized, diets taken on and rejected (sometimes more than once in the same day). In spite of grocery lists, cooking, laundry, shopping for necessities, making masks, supervising kids’ schoolwork, and keeping up with job responsibilities, there has been a fair amount of dog walking by various pet owners.

“We have gone exploring in LBL,” one woman remarked, adding that she and her husband have enjoyed some solitary side trips to Columbus Belmont Park and the Kenlake lighthouse to break the monotony.

Unlike my friends, I cannot seem to manage to read a whole book these days. With a stack of reading on my bedside table and a Kindle bursting with titles, I can barely get through a paragraph without heading to the kitchen to rummage for a snack.

In this unprecedented time, I find myself turning to poetry. As we near the end of April, National Poetry Month, a literary event to look forward to is the Academy of American Poets “Shelter in Poems” project. On Friday, April 30, at 7:30 pm/eastern time, poets and poetry lovers will share poems on social media that give them comfort or courage. The special performance will be presented by an impressive selection of poets and writers, including Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate; Dan Rather, award-winning journalist; Amber Tamblyn, actress, poet, and author; to name a few.

For more information, go to poets.org. See last year’s top 40 book club picks at www.goodreads.com.

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