Good Books Make Good Neighbors
by Elaine Johnson
At Calvary, we’re so fortunate to count the Junior League of Washington among our long-time friends. The Junior League has generously supplied many years of game nights and meals served, Christmas present wrapping and an annual Poetry and Prose event that everyone enjoys. With the expansion of the Life Skills, Education and Arts Program (LEAP), the Junior League co-chairs saw an opportunity to do more, and their vision led to an exciting new partnership between Calvary, the Junior League volunteers and PEN/Faulkner Foundation. Thanks to PEN/Faulkner resources and guidance, local writer Leslie Pietrzyk provided Calvary with enough copies of her novels A Year and a Day and Pears on a Willow Tree for the women in the book club to read, and makes guest appearances once a month during the book discussions.
These discussions are a highlight of the book club. Every Sunday afternoon, women gather to read parts of the book aloud and discuss previously assigned chapters. The discussion is spirited and robust, and the themes of Pietrzyk’s work are easy to relate to: the relationship between mothers and daughters, independence versus estrangement, love versus security—and all bound up in intoxicating description of the food that sustains the characters through it all! These passages generate discussion from the women about their own family histories, their own loves, and of course, their favorite meals. Why do Haitians eat pumpkin soup on New Year’s Day? How does one handle an unfaithful spouse? Why is it that we can all relate to a character writing home to her mother in a land that none of us have visited? Little by little, it has become clear that the questions are simply a net to catch as many answers as possible. There are no right or wrong ones, only another option to consider.
The book club at Calvary has generated even more interest in literary activities. Recently, some of the women at Calvary ventured to a reading celebrating Martin Luther King at the Folger Shakespeare Library (home to the PEN/Faulkner Reading series). The women enjoyed the event and scanned the Folger brochures for more like it. Discussing how much she would like to see the author Amy Tan speak, Tanya, a resident at Calvary, explained, “Now I understand what the book club is all about—when we know what to expect and what types of questions to ask, we can go ANYWHERE!”
We wholeheartedly agree.