Not long after moving to Chicago 13 years ago, I began working at a world-renown arts organization that was a challenging place for many reasons, not the least of which was the physical space. Elevators often got stuck, strange people would be found sleeping in the hallways, much of it was un-air-conditioned (or, conversely, barely heated), light fixtures would occasionally start to smolder, and so on. Maybe we bonded over the misery of our circumstances, but a number of us became close friends.
Like many not-for-profits, the place suffered from tremendous turnover and, after a few years, our group all departed within a brief time. To ensure that we stayed in touch, we formed a book group. Ten years, several marriages, a few babies, and some comings and goings later, most of us are still together. (Our circle has expanded beyond those of us bound by the common workplace, but the overall chemistry has been maintained.)
One of the founding members went on to become a teacher, and several years ago she instituted a "star" system: gold if you finished the book in time for the meeting, silver if you finished it after the discussion, and blue for some other reason I can't remember. (As a bit of a book group slacker for some time, I have been lobbying for a star for having purchased but not yet read the book; I am not winning that one.) This is a low-key group; no worries if you didn't read the book, just enjoy dinner and conversation. Sometimes there is animated discussion and sometimes we barely talk about the book. What is more important is that we enjoy getting together.
I sometimes joke that if it isn't about dance or knitting, I don't read it. An exaggeration to be sure, but regrettably I don't read nearly as many novels as I used to. Last night I jokingly suggested that one of our next books could be a knitting book. Since none of them knit, I really was kidding. Maybe it was because they were in my home, or maybe because they are incredibly thoughtful, open-minded people, or maybe because they are my friends, they actually said they might want to do that--and maybe I could teach them how to knit, too. It may not happen, but the fact that they were willing means as much to me as if it actually does.