A Different Sort of Book Club

A Different Sort of Book Club

Fifteen years ago I was introduced to a group of whip-smart women in San Francisco who made up the Exlibris Book Club. Every month, through a very democratic process, we would select a book of literature. It was almost always fiction. Serious fiction, except for our annual “summer book,” some kind of breezy read you can enjoy on vacation or at the beach. Every month, we gathered at one of our homes, rotating hosting duties, for a homemade dinner and a discussion of the book.

I joined the book because I found myself reading the same kinds of books over and over — often about journeys or passages, a theme to which I still gravitate. I wanted to diversify. I wanted to become a better reader.

I’ll admit that sometimes I felt like I was cramming for an exam, as I would plow through the last few chapters in the day or two before our next gathering. I was not always successful, and felt ashamed that I couldn’t contribute meaningfully to the discussion. 

But aside from the intellectual stimulation of a monthly literature salon, my favorite part was just in the gathering. And me being me, I suggested we prepare a meal that was thematic to the book — either foods from the setting, or something that might conjure the sense of place or time in the book.

This monthly challenge became almost as much fun as reading the book, for me at least. We made food from the American South, Ethiopia, Korea, Greece, and Jamaica. We scoured ethnic markets for esoteric ingredients. Rarely, when we were overwhelmed, we would just go to a restaurant that featured that cuisine. It gave us an opportunity create or imagine a sense of place from the books we read.

I will be posting some of my favorite recipes and the books that inspired them under the category “cook the book.” I hope it adds a richness to your book club or just your reading.