At the time, book clubs were completely foreign to me. I had never been a part of one, didn’t know anyone that belonged to one, and I’d never been hit over the head with one. If anyone I knew had secretly been a member of some clandestine literary collective…they had remained faithfully discreet.
The first rule of Book Club is – you do not talk about Book Club.
I am a reader, though, and I was curious. What do they eat? Where do they meet? If two members find themselves in heated combat over an autographed edition from Oprah’s Book Club, who gets the novel…uh…novel?
The opportunity to discover the feeding…or rather…the reading habits of a local group presented itself through an advertisement in the local paper. There would be a gathering at a nearby bookstore in just a few days. The group would be discussing that month’s selection, Endurance by Alfred Lansing.
I knew the book well. It’s a favorite of mine. Cool. I wouldn’t have to study, and I could participate if need be. The perfect opportunity to explore the group’s inner workings, without painting myself as an outsider.
Endurance seemed an odd choice for a book club to me. I had just assumed the group would be primarily women, and I thought this was more of a “guy’s” book. It chronicles the survival story of twenty-eight men on a doomed expedition to Antarctica in 1914 – a remarkable story.
Losing their ship to crushing glaciers. Waking in the middle of the night as cracks run through the ice supporting their tents in sub-zero temperatures. Fighting through ravaging hunger as they sought their next meal in seemingly barren wastelands.
What enabled these men to carry on in such dire circumstances? How did their leader, Ernest Shackleton, inspire his men to follow him in potentially hopeless situations? From where did they gain the fortitude to carry on, reaching new heights of cooperation as they left no man behind?
Lots of testosterone. Didn’t seem like the cup of tea a group of women would order. “Or maybe,” I thought, “I’m just wrong and it won’t be all women.”
Well, it wasn’t all women. Because I was there. But they had each read the book, and most were especially impacted by the tremendous heart and fortitude the men in this true account displayed as they persevered through unbelievable circumstances. This book, written from the diaries of the explorers themselves, had been chosen specifically and deliberately, and it had made an impression.
One woman in particular was held in awe by a revelation. “They never really talk about getting sick in the book,” she said. “Not a cold or anything. Do you think that’s because, since it was so cold, that there aren’t any germs or anything up there to make them sick?”
I just closed my eyes and hung my head. I suppose it’s possible. Or maybe it’s because, I don’t know, because after fighting through hunger and despair and fear and triumph…they didn’t stop to write about having the sniffles in their diaries.
“Dear Diary: still hungry. No food. The ship is gone and we are alone, left to wander and wonder when, if ever, we’ll get home. On top of that, if you can believe, my nose is kinda runny. And then, that new sailor we hired at the last minute has the same fur-lined boots as me? I’m, like, so mad at him. And that jacket? SO last season.”
Club me now.