On friendship, books and duplicity

by Kelley Korbin                                                 

Apparently confession is good for the soul, so here goes.

I cheated on my book club.

A bit of history. My book club and I go back more than 15 years. Over that time members have come and gone, but the essentials have stayed the same.

We meet 10 times a year, usually the third Tuesday of every month. Twice a year, we are treated to special meetings. Each February, one of our gang welcomes us to her mountain paradise. We snowshoe up a narrow, magical trail under a full or almost full moon for about 45 minutes until we reach her little cabin, warm and glowing with the fire that her partner hiked in earlier to set for us. She serves us delicious soups and gourmet chocolate.

Each May, another member hosts us for an entire weekend at her sprawling oceanfront cottage, where we share gourmet meals (prepared by us, of course!), take long walks and brave the late spring Pacific Ocean at least once.

Our regular meetings are nothing to sniff at, either. Every time, the host goes all out—shooing children and husbands from of the house, preparing a selection of snacks and plying us with copious amounts of wine.

Oh, did I mention the books?

We aren’t a super scholarly bunch, but we are all decently educated and thoughtful. Every month the host picks the book and does a little research, too. We do talk about what we’ve read—after catching up on the latest about everyone’s family and work lives, and some gossip.

We read mainly fiction, although we have read a fair share of biographies. I’ve learned that often it’s the books I’ve enjoyed least that I’ve grown to love most through our book club discussions.

We try not to judge each other by our picks, although I’m sure I’ll never live down selecting Moll Flanders by Daniel Dafoe, no matter how many unanimous hits I choose, such as Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden.

Although we don’t see each other often outside of book club, over the years the 10 of us have developed relationships I cherish. The books we share have sparked discussions about every topic imaginable, from war to poverty to gender politics, and it makes for a special kind of intimacy. 

Our monthly meetings have provided a metronome of consistency for me as we now muddle through our middle years and everything that goes with it. While big challenges like illness, divorce and death have touched our little group, more often it’s the smaller, everyday personal journeys that we share, like work/life balance, the flight of our children from our nests and the coming of menopause.

We have a lot of laughs, too. One time we made a quiz with 25 questions about the books we’ve read together. Questions like, “How many books have we read with the word 'crow' in the title?” (two), or, “What was the first name of the main character in The Kite Runner?” (Amir). We completed the quiz in groups and I think the top team might have answered half the questions correctly. That’s when we decided we could save a lot of money by just rereading the books we’d already bought, because apparently we don’t remember most of them, anyway.

What I’m trying to convey is that I am uniquely connected and committed to this important group of women in my life.

Which brings me back to the cheating.

A few months ago the selected book was Wild, by Cheryl Strayed. My Partner in Adventure had previously bought the book and almost finished reading it before he left it in a hotel room somewhere. It just went against my sensibilities to buy another copy and the library was all out.

It was right around this time I discovered that I had inadvertently joined Audible, Amazon’s audiobook club, thanks to ordering a ‘free’ copy of The Book Thief for my kids to listen to on a long car trip we were taking. By the time I noticed the charge on my credit card statement, I had already amassed three months of credits. Wouldn’t you know it; I just needed one credit to buy the unabridged audio version of Wild.

I listened to Wild in the car, on walks and while I was folding laundry. It took a lot longer than reading it would have, but I got a lot of things done while I listened.

Then I went to book club, where I snacked on fancy cheeses, drank red wine and unreservedly shared my opinions about the book as if I had actually read the thing. I carried it off. Nobody was any the wiser, because as it turned out, my comprehension was at least as good, and maybe even better, than normal.

I don’t know why I didn’t out myself. I think I felt guilty; that somehow listening to a book was actually less intellectual and less authentic than reading it.

The truth is, I have no idea what the women in my book club think about audiobooks because we’ve never talked about it. I do know there are a lot of people who don’t think it matters whether you read a book with your eyes or listen to it  with your ears. I’m sure there are purists who would disagree.

I hope they’re not in my book club. Because I liked listening to the book. And confessing all this has made me feel so much better that I just might do it again. After all, I still have two credits.

Kelley's somewhat complete book club reading list