Thursday, August 20, 2009

Book Report: "...and Ladies of the Club"

Tonight I finished a book that has taken me ages to read. I can't remember another book that I've had to work on for months. "...And Ladies of the Club" by Helen Hooven Santmyer was fabulous. It was the cause of many moments of bad mothering as I neglected my children because I just wanted to finish the chapter I was on!!! I snuck the book into the bathroom with me, I snuck it into the stairwell to read, I read late into the night from time to time, and I definitely let the kids watch more TV so I could read. Bad mommy.

The book details the entire lives of two women and the book club that they start while still in their teens. The women both die in their 80's, so there is 60+ years of history that passes during the books pages. The book reminds me a bit of what it is like for me to belong to the same church for the last 30 years. Like their 60 years in the book club, my 30 years at my church have introduced me to many people. Some come and go. Some are born and some die. Some marry, some divorce, and some remarry. Some move away and some return. Some have children that make them proud and some don't.

When I think about this book, I find myself asking what was the point of the novel. What was the overriding message or theme? I really can't think of one. Perhaps it had something to say about getting along with others. Maybe that many interpersonal issues that seem larger-than-life at the time will seem tiny in hindsight. But just now, as I write those possibilities, I know that isn't what will stick with me. I will remember that this novel made me feel so grateful for the bond that I have with my church family. I will remember that happiness in life doesn't come from the lack of sorrow but from an inner peace that one has when their way is sure.

At 1200 pages, it isn't a book that you should undertake lightly but I'm glad to have read it. Here is an excerpt from a real review:

"...And Ladies of the Club" is a novel, written by Helen Hooven Santmyer, about a group of women in the fictional town of Waynesboro, Ohio who begin a study club, which evolves through the years into a significant community service organization in the town. The books spans decades in the lives of the women involved in the club, between 1868 and 1932. Many characters are introduced in the course of the novel, but the primary characters are Anne Gordon and Sally Rausch, who in 1868 are new graduates of the Waynesboro Female Seminary who soon marry, and the decades that follow chronicle their marriages and those of their children and grandchildren. Santmyer focuses not just on the lives of the women in the Club, but also their families, friends, politics, and developments in their small town and the larger world.

Originally published by the Ohio State University Press in 1982 and only selling a few hundred copies, the book was chosen as a Book of the Month Club selection in 1984, making it a best-seller that year. The recognition earned its 88-year-old author critical acclaim and literary recognition; according to the back cover of the 1985 paperback edition, the novel took Santmyer more than 50 years to write.

Imagine that! 50 years to write. Good for you Helen Hooven Santmyer.

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