For years I have been trying to bring back potlucks. The ever-increasing non-corporeal, holographic world of friends with different textural preferences is as empty as empty calories. It is important to get together for a real meal. In addition to my potluck advocacy, I am a big promoter of the monthly book group.
Three of us started our study group in 2004 when, for the first time, George Bush was elected. To a second term. After the trauma of the Supreme Court-ordered presidential selection in 2000, we lived through terrorism, the Patriot Acts, one war, one pre-emptive invasion, mission accomplished, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and yet George had won the election. We were incredulous.
And we were furious and depressed that the LGBT movement had been used as the scare tactic, the get-out-the-vote wedge issue. Once again in a presidential election we were the butt-thong between the cheek of church and the cheek of state.
One night three of us were at dinner, taking turns rocking back and forth, knocking our foreheads on the table and moaning, “What are we gonna do?” Amid the davening for democracy, we decided we needed to get together with fellow daveners to think and talk so that we would not fall into a paralysis of despondence.
For 10 years we have met monthly at each other’s homes. The format is basic. The host over-orders take-out. We catch up with each other and gossip while passing plastic containers of pad thais, saags, kabobs etc. Then, over the passed half-pints of various ice creams, we start to discuss the book. Though we try to plan ahead, the last 10 minutes of the evening is hilarious horse-trading for the next available date. That is followed by a month of endless email chains with clarifications of dates, book titles and the host’s address.
We generally read non-fiction – history, policy, theory. One month my choice, Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Life of Poetry,” completely traumatized one of the empiricists in our group. Over the years members have moved away or had schedule changes. Newbies are invited. Each month we average about eight to 10 people. We are all progressives but otherwise a mixed lot: gay/straight, women/men, racially diverse. Sociologists, English professors, journalists, LGBT activists, heads of various non-profit foundations, many non-practicing lawyers, a radical economist, an anthropologist, one U.N. peacekeeper, and one comic who should be seated at the kid’s table.
We have read and discussed works by some of our group members. No one ended up in tears. We’ve invited several local authors to come and talk about their books. Again, no tears. We appreciate anyone game enough to have dinner with our motley crew because our discussions are riotous, thoughtful, tangential, inspiring and loud. It is a pleasure to listen to smart people disagree with a point in a book or with another person in the group. They speak respectfully, from the fullness of scholarship and life experience, and often in full paragraphs, despite interruptions.
In the course of the 10 years, we have also supported each other through deaths of parents, job changes, the trials of tenure and personal illness. Recently we met a few days after the Supreme Court’s decision in McCutcheon v. The Federal Elections Commission, Citizen’s United Redux. Again it was Capitalism v. Democracy and again capitalism won. Corporations are people and money not only talks, it is speech. This time there were near tears. It was good to be together. Priceless.
Kate Clinton is a humorist who has been entertaining audiences for 30 years.