Bluestockings


In 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 in softcover."

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 Road.

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