The Bigger Sacramento Book Club (BSBC)… 26 Years and Counting

 

Books read by the BSBC of Sacramento

This bookshelf includes about half of the books the BSBC has read during its 26 years of existence.

Three things happened when I climbed off my bicycle in Sacramento during the second week of September in 1990. First, I met Peggy and promptly fell in love. (It took me five seconds; Peggy was more like five months. She liked the look of a guy in tight bicycle shorts who had just biked 10,000 miles but was a little concerned about the sanity of a guy who would do such a thing. Rightfully so.)

Two, I was seriously hassled for being one week late. Mind you, I had just travelled for six months on a solo journey around North America. An extra seven days didn’t seem like a big deal. To be fair, however, time is different for someone sitting in an air-conditioned office eight hours a day than it is for someone sitting on the back of a bicycle and peddling 50–100 miles a day through every type of terrain and weather North America has to offer.

Here I am biking up a mountain in Nova Scotia with 60 pounds of gear.

Here I am biking up a mountain in Nova Scotia with 60 pounds of gear. I had already biked 5000 miles. Time slows down in such circumstances.

The third thing that happened is the subject of today’s post. My friend Ken Lake informed me that a meeting of the Bigger Sacramento Book Club, more fondly known as the BS Book Club, or simply the BSBC was coming up. Ken had started the book club and recruited me as a member in the fall of 1988, a few months before I started my bike odyssey.

I love this photo of Ken because it makes him look like a Druid Elder, or someone out of Lord of the Rings. I think the look on his face reflected that the 49ers were losing.

I love this photo of Ken because it makes him look like a Druid Elder, or someone out of Lord of the Rings. I think the look on his face reflected his disapproval of a SF Giant’s play.

The BSBC reads a wide variety of books based solely on the tastes of whoever is selecting the book.

The BSBC reads a wide variety of books based solely on the tastes of whoever selects the book.

The rules, Ken had explained, were simple. Members of the BSBC would rotate having the book club meet at their homes. The host would pick the book, provide the main course, and supply whatever alcohol was to be consumed. Other members would provide hors d’oevres, salad, veggies, dessert and breads— plus any insights they had on the book.

BSBC is only partially about books. This particular meeting featured a beer tasting. Dinners are often planned around whatever food was featured in the book.

BSBC is only partially about books. This particular meeting featured a beer tasting. Dinners are often planned around whatever food is featured in the book.

So far it sounded like a standard dinner/book club. And then Ken mentioned the other rule: You didn’t have to read the book. Maybe you ran out of time or couldn’t struggle your way through the first chapter. Fine. It was after all, the BS Book Club. You didn’t even have to confess. I laughed and signed on the imaginary dotted line. I even remember the first meeting. The book was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of our members hadn’t read the book but had brought Cliff Notes. We gave him an appropriately hard time. When he insisted on discussing the motif, things got even more raucous. It set the tone for future meetings.

Another shelf of our books. BTW, I highly recommend the book just to the left of Lake Woebegone Days. (grin)

Another shelf of our books. BTW, I highly recommend the book just to the left of Lake Wobegone Days. (grin)

So, even though I was still wearing my bike clothes, wasn’t sure where I was going to live, and didn’t own a car, I told Ken that of course I would be at BSBC. And could I please bring something that didn’t require cooking.

It was a while before I was ready to choose a book and host the book club, however. Living with a former girlfriend while pursuing Peggy made things a little, um, awkward. Finally, I obtained my own apartment in downtown Sacramento and hosted my first ever BSBC, on a couch and folding chairs. People ate off their laps. The book was an old favorite of mine: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. If you haven’t read it and enjoy offbeat humor, add it to your list.

The first book I selected for the BSBC to read.

The first book I selected for the BSBC to read.

By 1992 membership had settled down to five couples, the same five couples who are members today. It’s an interesting mix of people including two teachers, a physician, two prevention specialists, a principal, a judge, an office manager, a pilot/man of many trades, and me— a person of even more trades. (Most of us are semi-retired now.) Our politics range from sort of out there to moderate. It’s amazing we have hung out together as a book club, not to mention as couples for a quarter of a century. I once mentioned the odds against all of us still being married to the same person. “We could never get divorced,” one of the couples responded. “We don’t know who would get book club.”

They were semi-serious.

The five couples of the BSBC on the steps of John Muir's home, now a museum, in the Bay Area.

The five couples of the BSBC on the steps of John Muir’s home (now a National Historic site) located in the Bay Area.

To date, BSBC has read 217 books and two magazine collections. We have also watched five movies and been on three side trips that didn’t involve reading or watching anything. That’s a total of 227 meetings.

These days it is more difficult to get together. One couple lives in France six months out of the year, another has moved to the Bay Area, and Peggy and I are living in Oregon. But we still manage. BSBC has priority.

I asked Ken and his wife Leslie why they thought the book club has survived for so long. The essence of their reply was that BSBC’s long continuity reflects the depth of the friendships that have evolved over time and the informality of our approach to books. The club is as much, or possibly more, of a social gathering than it is a discussion of books. Ken described our meetings as “free flowing within a structure of friendship.” And free flow they do. A full hour’s discussion on the book out of a four-hour evening means people really liked the book.

A final shelf.

A final shelf.

For fun today, I’ve posted photos of Peggy and my BSBC bookshelves that contain about half of the books we have read over the years. If you look at these shelves closely, you will see the breadth of books we read. They reflect the very different tastes in books of ten different people. We all end up reading in genres that we normally wouldn’t. We are constantly being introduced to new authors and new ideas. And that, along with the friendships, is what our book club is about.

Strong friendships have developed over the years in BSBC. The photo features LaReene Sweeney and I.

Strong friendships have developed over the years in BSBC. This photo features LaReene Sweeney and me.

Once a year, the BSBC comes to our house in Oregon for 2-3 days. A couple of years ago we took them kayaking on Squaw Lakes. In this photo Ken Lake hides his paddle so it looks like his wife, Leslie, is doing all the work.

Once a year, the BSBC comes to our house in Oregon for 2-3 days. A couple of years ago we took them kayaking on Squaw Lakes. In this photo Ken Lake hides his paddle so it looks like his wife, Leslie, is doing all the work.

22 comments on “The Bigger Sacramento Book Club (BSBC)… 26 Years and Counting

  1. I spy great titles on those shelves. Our girls book club (15+ years) operates much the same way. We have a rule; if you didn’t read or finish the book you have to bring a bottle of wine for the host. We’ve had meetings where everyone brought a bottle:)

    • Now that’s funny… and a great idea. Does the hostess toss in a bottle to the common pot if she didn’t finish the book.:) And yes, there are a number of really good books among the titles. –Curt

  2. We have a similar club of friends that have known each other for decades and meet at the same place yearly around Christmas time. We all bring food and drinks and talk about anything and everything. A great tradition of friendship. Good post, Curt.

  3. How wonderful that you meet up still after all these years and I bet you look forward to each meeting with antici…pation! Shameless plug for a book that we hope you’ll all be discussing next 😉

  4. What a wonderful idea. I’m thinking of what I could start that can endure like this… This made me chuckle:

    “We could never get divorced,” one of the couples responded. “We don’t know who would get book club.”

    But it also captures the depth of what you’ve all shared. To the BSBC!!!

  5. I’m so envious you have a book club that’s survived this long! If hubby and I ever find ourselves on the West Coast we’re going to crash one of these! Now I have a book I’ve never heard of that I must read. Thanks Curt and way to woo Peggy. Glad you finally got the other apartment because I can REALLY get how a girlfriend hanging around wouldn’t go very well as you were trying to catch Peggy’s attention. Ha!

    • Yeah, I am not that good of a juggler. (Laughing)

      And you and hubby would be welcome. I assume you are talking about Confederacy of Dunces. I think I have inspired myself to go back and read it again. –Curt

  6. I was just putting Confederacy of Dunces on my reading list when your reblog came through. I am so envious of this club. I have two very different reading clubs (one regular, local, elderly and female; the other young (except for me), mixed age/sex, all academics) and we have had good discussions and have racked up some numbers over the years, but there is not quite the same atmosphere. I had forgotten the totally random International poetry club, that meets perhaps every couple of years in a house in Cambridge… that’s quite special, but rare.

    • Books are a wonderful excuse to get together, under any circumstances, Hilary. We certainly have the minds in our group to do in depth analysis but decided to go a different direction. It works for us, obviously. The laughs are many when we get together. –Curt

  7. Curt, what a marvelous tradition! And looking at your bookshelves I can see why you and Peggy have been entertained over the years. I saw a lot of favorites and a few new titles – always exciting. And I do really like the book to the left of Lake Wobegon Days, as well as Confederacy of Dunces since we used to live in New Orleans. I belonged to a similar book club when we lived in St. Augustine, FL. We operated under the same guidelines as you (including the book-themed meals), so when someone proposed that we read The White Trash Cookbook, well, you can imagine the meal. It was the best one ever – particularly the “pig candy.” 🙂 ~Terri

    • It’s always fun Terri with adventures in food as well as reading. We are fortunate to have some very good cooks. We also all have dinner tables that accommodate 10 people. 🙂 Calories would be no limit with the White Trash Cookbook, I suspect!

  8. Curt – what an amazing accomplishment.

    “What do you mean, Bruce? The bike ride?”

    “Yes. And the long-lasting friendships and of course, your happiness with Peggy.”

    (Ken has the look of a concerned baseball fan for sure. That may be his permanent look right now, as things aren’t going so well for his Giants.)

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