“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” -Charles William Eliot
Long before I dreamt up the Pfister Book Club, these ladies began meeting at the Pfister to discuss books. Four years ago Tricia, no stranger to book clubs, found herself wishing she could discuss fictional characters through the therapist’s eyes she views people with everyday. She asked Maureen, a fellow therapist, Sharon, a psychiatric nurse, and Eeva, a dear friend who had spent a lifetime married to a psychologist, to begin discussing books with her through their shared professional lens. They began to gather in the porch of the Pfister café every month, devoting a morning to brunch, friendship, books and people-watching.
When I met with Maureen, Sharon and Tricia to hear the story of their book club and their friendship, the absence of Eeva was palpable in all they talked about. She passed away last summer, at age 90. All three women spoke of her with great admiration and tenderness. Born in Finland, part of another generation and mother to many more children than the other women have, Eeva offered them a unique perspective. She was loving, classy and bright, and she didn’t like to be anywhere too early, so Pfister brunch it was.
Eeva had great taste and she was cutting edge–she had them all reading books like A Man Called Ove long before anyone else had heard of it. Once Maureen was considering letting her hair go gray and Eeva, was never afraid to voice her opinion, calmly sipped her tea and said, “Do it.” So Maureen did.
This group loves character-driven literary fiction, especially anything about families. Their particular favorites have been Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. Especially beloved authors are Anna Quindlen and Elizabeth Strout.
They believe in the local library, passing a single copy of a book between them, and letting the conversation meander without prepared questions. They choose to “fly by the seat of (their) pants” in selecting their books, only planning for the next month when someone brings a copy of a book along to their meeting and urges the others to read it.
They’ve learned that books can be catalysts to deep friendships. Sometimes their own conversations have been so fun that they’ve entirely forgotten about the book at hand.
Sharon had never been in a book club before this one. She grew up in a town that didn’t have a library. Her blue-collar parents didn’t own a TV and got all their information by listening to the radio, so she didn’t read much as a child. Sharon really developed a love for books in her 30s. Because it wasn’t a staple for her growing up, she still sees reading as a sort of dessert, a lovely treat. She loves very human stories and the community that’s been built in this group of women.
Maureen prefers non-fiction. The fiction she does like best are ensemble pieces. She needs the tactile nature of paper books, not e-readers, and turns the bottom corner up on pages that contain a breathtaking phrase or insight she wants to be sure to remember. As a little girl, she would hide under the covers to read Heidi or The Bobbsey Twins by flashlight until her sister would tattle on her. She collects gorgeously illustrated fairy tales, and she made sure to teach her son, “Once you learn to read, you can learn to do anything.”
Tricia has been a voracious reader and avid library patron since she was a young girl riding her bike to summer book club there. She’d relish long, cool afternoons turning pages in the library when it was boiling outside. Even now, she’s devoted to her local library, saying, “The library has always seemed like such a treat to me; that all those books are free!” Tricia loves cross-cultural fiction, and her favorite thing about being in a book club is how it compels you to read a much wider range of things than you’d tend to pick up on your own.
And their dear Eeva was an avid reader, consuming more books than any of the others but still able to remember everything she read. And they remember her, each time they gather together around a brunch and a book.