Finding friends in my new city would be a lot easier if my boys were with me...and if they were still one and five. But they’re not--in either case. They are clear across the country living their young men’s lives and doing a great job at it. Having small children (and becoming involved with all their activities) gives one a great entree into making new friends. But alas, no more “mommy and me” classes where we can laugh and dance and sing with other children and their moms, and bond over watered-down juice and crackers. No more “moving on” classes where some of the moms and I can sneak off for thirty minutes and get acquainted over a cup of tea or a latte. I am on my own, and while the realization of that for some may be exciting, the thought of actually going out and trying to find new friends seems daunting to me.
I guess I could join the Sierra Club, but I don’t hike. I could hook up (excuse the pun) with a knitting group, but I still have about a thousand dollars worth of beautiful half-finished sweaters and blankets sitting in a plastic storage box from the last time I attempted that. I was about to throw in the towel and allow things to just “evolve” when the concierge in my building asked me if I was interested in joining a book group.
And so it was that I began to join ten other people on the first Tuesday of each month, for the last four months. We are a disparate group--men, women, young and old-er--a few doctors, a lawyer, some techies, a physicist (don’t forget we’re in Cambridge), a metallurgy analyst, and me. I don’t think any of us would have gotten together ordinarily had it not been for this group. Our one commonality was that we all lived in the same building, and now we are all reading the same book each month.
The conversation always revolves around the chosen book, but invariably we go off on tangents and touch upon movies, TV, problems in or with the building, and always food. We talk about it, and we eat it. We started out just drinking, and then we added (well, I added) sweets. Lately people have been bringing savories--cubes of cheese, boxes of crackers, olives, cornichons. It’s become a veritable food fest, and in the few short months we’ve all been together, we’ve become comfortable enough to dip into whatever box or container is nearby and pass it on until the next container or small plate is passed down. We are not organized enough to plan who will bring what; that would put us dangerously close to being labeled a “friends” group, and we’re not. It’s vaguely understood that this is an ad hoc group--a group with one purpose, discussing books. We have our other lives outside the meeting room door and this group is just one aspect of that.
The suggestion that we all have brunch at a nearby restaurant prompted a long discussion on the best brunches in the neighborhood. It then went on to lunch and dinner hot spots. The group brunch never came to be. Friends do brunch, and we are just a book group. In some ways the unspoken assumption that we needn’t take this group any farther than we already have lessens the pressure to do so. We can come together, talk about the book, our lives, our feelings and still maintain some sense of anonymity. It’s quite liberating, actually--belonging to a group that doesn’t ask much of you, and doesn’t judge. It is so casual that quite often someone may not even have read the book, but they come regardless--just for the conversation and company. During the last meeting our metallurgy analyst regaled us with stories of her long ago days (she’s well into her 80s) at MIT, and her subsequent 40 years at the Smithsonian. She spoke with such animation about her discovery of some detail in something belonging to the Wright brothers. I can’t tell you that any of us actually understood what she was talking about, but it seemed important to her (and probably to the world of metallurgy), so we sat and listened. Most often the tangents we go off on are not as esoteric--and they never seem to scare anyone away. In all the months we’ve been meeting, attendance has been very close to one hundred percent. As the weather gets colder and much more inclement, it is very comforting to know that once a month I don’t even have to leave the building to find a familiar face and some camaraderie (and some snacks). No, we’re not a friends group, but you could’ve fooled me.
Here’s the list of books we’ve read so far--comments or additional recommendations would be welcomed.
The Ha Ha by Dave King
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
So Much For That by Lionel Shriver
The Super Sad Love Story by Gary Shteyngart