books 0319I used to be an inveterate reader. Maybe I still am; it’s very difficult to sit at breakfast without reading something, even if it’s the back of a cereal box. But I don’t spend the time that I used to at this hobby/process/activity/lifelong habit. Sleep apnea is kicking my butt twofold in this arena: it has cut down on the number of available hours in my day, and once I stop moving and try to read, I fall asleep.

When I worked at the paper, there was a family in town named Nancarrow, with three active kids. Their dad, Cliff, not only dutifully but enthusiastically attended their events — sports, concerts, award ceremonies. In my capacity as sports editor/school reporter I attended these same events, and quickly determined that Cliff was a kindred spirit. He never went anywhere without a book in his hand, and in the minutes before the concert started, or between innings of his son’s baseball game, he would have the book open, snatching a few precious minutes to advance the plot.

This week I need to embrace the Nancarrow Method, because I have until Monday night to prepare for the re-emergence of my book group, and I’m on page 89 of 250. I need to try to be a better member than I was in the many months leading up to our collapse. I showed up to the meetings, but my input was generally limited to, “I didn’t get the book read.” And as attendance dwindled, this was not helpful input.

I once was at a dinner where a woman named Gail said something to everyone about being in a book group with me. The local Episcopalian priest for some reason found this uproariously funny. Uproariously. “TL’s in a book group with a bunch of women?” he guffawed.

Now, I am, or used to be, in lots of groups with “a bunch of women.” Frequently these women are older than me, too. I don’t have a problem with it — these groups and associations have all enriched my life greatly, and you would think perhaps a priest ought to laud inclusiveness and community. Instead, he found it laughably funny.

But Gail was quick to correct him: “No, I’m a book group with a bunch of men,” she told him, which put a fortunate end to his laughter. I still don’t get what was so funny, no matter what book group I might choose to be a part of, but Gail was right: this is mostly a men’s book group.

It wasn’t intended to be a men’s group or a women’s group. The purpose of our founding was to read history books, and through the years, interest in this has skewed male, although there’s usually one woman on the membership e-mails.

My friend Mark, a social studies teacher, originated the group, and he invited me and a parent of one of his students whom he knew to be a Civil War buff to join. He also invited every other teacher of history and social studies in the valley, and not a single one of them took him up on the offer. So when we started, it was just Mark, Jeff and me, although we were soon joined by Wayne.

Membership has fluctuated over the years, and a big night was, say, seven or so attendees. This is probably why the History Channel on TV now features car restoration and pawn shops rather than actual historical content. But those of us who are regular members have enjoyed our association over the years.

The last couple of years, though, we had a spate of medical issues, and general busyness, and people like me, who weren’t reading the books and who couldn’t think of a good book to suggest when it was our turn. I have generally been successful with my “water disaster” choices, starting with our initial read, Endurance, about an early expedition to Antarctica that went horribly awry and yet ended with all members of the expedition surviving — even the guy who had a heart attack.

Some of my other selections have been really bad. For instance, there are hundreds of books on Alexander the Great, and yet I managed to select one where the author was so enamored of his own skill in Greek that it was too much trouble to translate for those of us who are less fluent. The real lesson: never believe the reviews on Amazon. (Although I try not to buy books from Amazon.)

Other people have selected books I would never in a million years have read otherwise. Some of them, it turns out, with good reason, but others have changed my reading life. Jeff, the Civil War buff, has come up with several good titles over the years, none better than Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand, about the 1876 match-up between the Seventh Cavalry and a huge encampment of Lakota and Cheyenne. I re-read that one occasionally, and someday it might rate its own blog post.

I gather what Mark has been finding, in the year or so since our apparent demise, is that without the deadline imposed by a monthly group meeting, his reading pile is stacking up. So when he said he was thinking of starting up the group again, I was on-board, determined this time to be a better reader.

But I’m having to be even more apportioning of my time than usual, because two houses are in flux. Audrie, the real estate agent, wants to come take interior photos before this house goes on sale March 14 (yikes!), and at some point, presumably this week, there should more traction on the new house, with the return of the plumber, the arrival of the electrician, and possibly stucco samples to view.

Because my periodicals are stacking up, I took, sometime back, to resuming a practice that I’m told I inherited from my dad: reading while walking. I don’t really like to be reading if I’m out among cows or trees or birds, but the walk to work doesn’t usually offer a lot of interesting features, and it’s 25 minutes in which to get my magazines read.

Books are harder, because they don’t fold over and sometimes require two hands, but I was making the effort last week when my copy of Legion Versus Phalanx arrived (from Amazon, because Mark didn’t give me enough time to have Teri at the college–I mean university — bookstore order it for me. Then it started snaining, so I started driving. It’s supposed to snain again this week, so I may have to snatch minutes here and there out of the rest of my day. Because reading while driving is bad not just for you but those in your path.

I do have to say, it would help if the author of this particular book would stop explaining what he plans to talk about and just start talking. Eighty-nine pages in, and we’re still setting the stage before reviewing four different battles where a Roman legion engaged a Hellene (I’m told, in these early pages, that we prefer this over Greek) phalanx.

Okay, I can see your eyes glazing over already. Which is why I’m in a book group, mostly men, of three to seven members. Episcopalian priests aside, however, this doesn’t seem like it should be particularly laughable.

Read on, everyone. Read whatever you like, with whomever you’d like. I promise not to laugh.

Photo: a handful of book group titles from over the years. I read all the ones about water, and some of the others as well. Maybe not The Iliad.


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