Lady Woolfs Book Club

Posted: June 24, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

By Tricia Lunt, English Faculty. 

The Lady Woolfs met at 826 Chicago, a tremendous non-profit that supports and promotes literacy in the Chicago area, where we all either worked or volunteered. 826CHI is a rarified space devoted to creative writing, community engagement, and general wackiness. We all fit in perfectly. I’m not exactly sure who started the book club. I could find out, of course, but all the best stories begin with mysterious origins.

At first, we were six: Corinne, Janet, Julie, Kait, Leah, and me. Ultimately, three of the Imageoriginal Woolfs moved away, but they are far from forgotten. Corrine was the first to become a long-distance Woolf when she, our proud Canadian, returned with her husband to their favorite state: Kansas. Corinne’s exit resulted in Kara’s addition to the Woolfs in 2011. We thought that was the most our club would ever change. But, as my 8th grade history teacher Mr. Johnson always said, “nothing’s constant except change,” and Julie and Kait were each offered remarkable professional opportunities in quick succession. In Spring 2012, Julie earned an important fellowship at the CDC and Kait was promoted to 826 National, in San Francisco. Our book club had room for more local members, so Jeni and Kendra, two more 826ers, were asked to join. Thus, there are nine Lady Woolfs, six local and three long-distance. Once a Woolf, always a Woolf. And though the departures are reluctant, the going-away parties are fabulous. None of us will forget Leah doing an actual spit-take as Kara grabbed and chugged each remaining glass of wine on the table as we said “goodbye” to Kait at Bin Wine Café. We all collapsed into giggles, barely summoning the strength to leave the restaurant.

We always discuss the book, for how long is flexible. Some books require discussion and scrutiny. Others seem strangely forgettable, still others downright dreadful. We analyze character, plot, style, symbolism, irony. We reveal remarkable insights. We disagree. We help each other see books in new ways. We all complain, perhaps me most of all, about the depiction of female characters. Women in literature—even in literature written by women—are so frequently oversimplified types: the earth mother, the unattainable beauty, the resilient misfit. What’s truly frustrating is that in every room where The Lady Woolfs sit, there are astonishingly complex, authentic, flawed, magnificent women. Why are women like us so uncommon on the page? Each one of us is nurturing and loving in marvelous ways. Each one of us possesses unique, captivating beauty. Each of us has failed to fit in. We are all that and more, and we search to find portrayals of women equally as vibrant, finding them only rarely—in Austen and Dundy and Wolitzer—cherishing them, like each other, all the more.

The Lady Woolfs’ meetings have grown over time, just like our relationships. A meeting can easily run four hours, as we devote ourselves to the extraordinary experience we’ve been gifted. Naturally, the stories shared aren’t limited to what we find in the books. It’s impossible to remember who said what, the words and wine flow so freely, so our own stories have intertwined with the novels and memoirs: french-fry-fueled hangovers, dissections of countless bad dates, two incidents involving fetish gear, exotic vacations, romantic engagements and preposterously hilarious (at the time) taglines, including the ridiculous “Tito, Tito, Tito, Relax.”  

ImageWhen I was convalescing last August, spending summer vacation in my darkened living room on the pulled-out couch, the Lady Woolfs hurried to my door with food and wine and gifts. Janet made me three eye patches, one green, one purple, and one red marked with a “T,” making me the envy of everyone in the eye clinic. We didn’t have a book to talk about because this was a “special session,” so we watched the Olympics on TV. The Lady Woolfs proceeded to get excessively drunk and exceedingly funny. Julie had us laughing so hard our faces ached, but we all agreed that was hysterical, too, so our laughter roared on and on.

When the next Lady Woolfs book club meeting approaches, the host sends out a reminder, and a volley of witty and wonderful emails builds until the appointed time. We descend upon the host’s house, adding wine, cheese, fruits, salads and chocolates to an already overflowing table. Yes, I am a member of quite possibly the world’s most extraordinary book club. No, I’m afraid we aren’t looking for new members. 

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