England around 1750 a group of ladies chose rather than to spend their
evenings playing cards, to instead hold 'conversation' parties. They
would invite well-known men of letters to discuss literary topics
with them. One particular guest, Benjamin Stillingfleet, a scholar
and botanist regularly wore cheap blue worsted stockings, a type disdained
by the elite. Many at the time considered it inappropriate for women
to aspire to this sort of learning. They began referring negatively
to these women as, The Bluestocking Society. The women who formed
the literary group defiantly took up the challenge and adopted the
name Bluestocking Society as their own. Before long the name became
synonymous with women interested in literature. English critic William
Hazlitt wrote, "I have an utter aversion to bluestockings. I do not
care a fig for any woman that knows even what 'an author' is." Indeed,
the times have changed.
Jump ahead from 18th century
England to 21st century Columbia County and meet "The Bluestockings",
a literary book group. The group is comprised of thirteen women.
An invitation was extended to
attend a meeting and I accepted in order that I might pen this article.
How could I turn down the opportunity to spend the evening with so
many intelligent and beautiful women? Countywide, men are turning
green with envy.
The Bluestockings Book Group
gathers monthly, except December when everyone is too busy, to discuss
the book they chose to read that month. At the end of each meeting
one member, going alphabetically down the list, chooses the book everyone
will read during the next month. The group is comprised of women from
all over the county, Kelliann Cummings, Betty Ann Falkner, Betsy Hague,
Martha Lane, Sarah Lipsky, Pamela Mixa-Cranna, Trish Rost, Nancy Schoep,
Heather Scott, Allyson Sorge-Pollack, Denise Thorn, Rita Van Alstyne
and Nancy Weaver.
Martha Lane and Pamela Mixa-Cranna
are two of the original four founding members. Martha had been in
a book group in Seattle years ago. She was new to that area at the
time and found it a great way to meet people in the community. She
decided to start up a book group here in Columbia County and within
two months they had a dozen members. "In my mother's day they played
bridge as a way of getting together," Martha says. "I think people
have a need to gather together."
I ask if there are any rules.
"Only that you like to read and the books chosen must be available
On the night of the meeting
the women began to arrive, one or two at a time. Gradually they began
gathering together around the fireplace in the downstairs family room,
chatting, catching up. Then a rather unusual and quite delightful
thing happened. Without introduction, without notice of any sort,
the conversation ceased and the discussion of that month's book began.
It began with great suddenness, the switching on of a light. It was
spontaneous, magical and I was transfixed. I sat there marveling at
their passion, their likes and dislikes, all very specific and well
thought out, yet impulsive. Each spoke from her heart, talking about
the book's characters and the story lines and how they were moved
or affected by the book. Their comments varied widely. There was nothing
properly ordered, no decorum to the discussion, no one led the group,
yet I noticed something that very much impressed me; no one monopolized
the conversation, no one talked over or interrupted anyone; it was
an exciting, spirited, diverse discussion. It was similar to watching
a group of musicians who've played together for years improvise.
Reading is one of the great
and important joys available in life. Reading quite simply opens the
world to anyone who invests the time. I often hear people say they're
too busy to read, but somehow they find time to slouch down into the
sofa and stare mindlessly at television. We have become a civilization
of electronic media watchers. It concerns me the possibility that
books might one day simply disappear. The Bluestockings give me hope.
Martha tells me there are book
groups springing up all over the country, people are reading. The
Bluestockings have read more than thirty books, many they would never
have picked up, were it not for the group. So turn off the TV, head
to the library, join a book group or form one of your own. If you
wind up experiencing half the joy, fun and fulfillment I witnessed
in this group of women you'll be floating on a cloud, it may even
change your life.
After the discussion, I asked
if they had difficulty allocating time to read and the answer was
a resounding, "No!"
"I joined to read more, to be
motivated," Allyson Sorge-Pollack said adding, "I always have to have
a book with me now."
Nancy Weaver quipped, "Reading
more makes me read more. I feel funny without a book, I even read
when I do my hair."
Thanks Bluestockings, for an
extraordinarily uplifting evening.
We'll talk next time, From The
to Road Archive