Vermeer, Young Girl Reading

A reproduction of the Vermeer painting shown above used to hang in my bedroom when I was a child. I was always encouraged to pick up a book and read. The phrase “to have one’s nose in a book” seemed to have been created especially for me.

I even carried books to read on the metro (subway) and train during my twelve-year stay in France, before there were any Nooks or Kindles. This extended stay abroad and the overall nomadic life I led in my twenties and thirties had its drawbacks, for I never developed longtime friendships with other women.

So when I went to a book club early this spring, I was hoping to get to know the other members as we appreciated some literature I had never heard of. However, the group leader made it clear that they all had their thirty-year friendships already and were “private” people who did not seek to establish ties outside the reading circle.

This was supposed to be “like an academic class.” If I had wanted to take a class, I would have enrolled in a course at the local college. And they could have fooled me about being so serious about the book they were reading, as they exchanged hugs and tried to catch up.

Only I, the lowly initiate, was prohibited from sharing any personal information. Had they cared to learn, I would have told them why my need for female bonding was so strong.

Suddenly, I do not want to see another book and much less a Nook or Kindle.

The following poem is based on e e cummings’ “The Cambridge Ladies.”

The Book Club Ladies

The book club ladies hide behind their volumes.
Their hearts are sealed more tightly than a tomb
from which no Resurrection comes to pass.

The supersized Venus stares down the intruder
and daintily refuses fruits and nuts
arranged oh so prettily upon the table
(we know she didn’t out-Botticelli Botticelli
by turning up her nose at such sweet treats).

The schoolmarm sits, leg crossed over one knee,
like a frigid sculpted stone Madonna
and once or twice assumes a Thinker’s pose.

The pages smell like someone’s dusty attic
or musty basement. With minds mildewed and stale
the book club ladies do not care a whit
beyond their  living rooms’ wide picture windows.
They seek the safety of the furthest-flung places
neatly bound in leather: the kimono-clad
tea ceremony performer sitting in seiza
nearer to them than all their unloved neighbors.

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