Terry Woster: Book clubs were about time and timing
Because my parents had a deep appreciation for the power of books and the value of reading, my mom let me join several book-of-the-month clubs when I was in high school.To this day, I own some wonderful old books because of my club memberships. W...
Because my parents had a deep appreciation for the power of books and the value of reading, my mom let me join several book-of-the-month clubs when I was in high school.
To this day, I own some wonderful old books because of my club memberships. When Nancy and I were boxing things up to move from our old house this past fall, I emptied books from shelf after shelf in the basement. The need to pause and remember the pleasure I took from reading those books made the task take longer than it should have. Eventually, I had the books packed away.
Book clubs were all about time and timing. Each month, the club would send a card with a featured selection and an alternate. Sending the card back marked “no book this month’’ or something like that kept the member from receiving the monthly selection in the mail. Ignoring the card, losing the card, setting it aside to fill out and return later? Any of those things resulted in the member receiving the featured selection, along with a bill for the cost of the book, plus shipping.
Many of the books I emptied from the basement shelves came to me through inattention or inaction. As the volumes mounted, I began to appreciate the need to manage my time, at least for the few minutes once a month that it took to review the featured selection and alternate choice and to fill out and return the card to show I didn’t wish to buy that month’s pick.
The process favored the seller, obviously. No action constituted a decision to purchase. I bought some books I didn’t really want. However, many of the books that came because of my inaction turned out to be great to read. I’d never have known them if I’d made a decision when the original card arrived by mail. It was like having an online service with a library and letting the library staff load the electronic reader.
One of my book clubs featured science fiction. For quite a time in junior high and high school, I read just about every science fiction book or magazine I could find. With a book club, I could get a novel each month. That’s how I found “Stranger in a Strange Land’’ by Robert A. Heinlein. These days it’s considered a cult classic. I got it just after it was published. I guess I was an original cult member.
The science fiction book club -- through inaction one month on my part, I confess -- also introduced me to the writing of Clifford D. Simak, who lived in the Twin Cities most of his life. He wrote some great stuff, filled not only with off-the-wall sci-fi notions but also with long passages on life, good and evil, all the themes good fiction contains. I really like that guy’s writing.
My first Simak experience came in a novel called “Time is the Simplest Thing.’’ It involves a world in which some people have the ability to travel telepathically. Sounds goofy, but the novel’s discussions of power and fear and mortality are fascinating.
The novel’s title is appropriate for this time of season, with Christmas just ending and the New Year drawing near. Time really is the simplest thing. Quite like the book-of-the-month selections when I failed to send the card back, time happens, one moment after another.
Much as I sometimes wish I could -- when family visits or a perfect river day arrives or a peaceful feeling settles with the close of day -- there’s no holding back time. There’s no hurrying it, either, as I would have liked to have done a week ago when Nancy and I were waiting for the family to arrive for Christmas.
Last Sunday, my granddaughter, Sage, helped me wind the grandfather clock in the corner. We tugged the chains that lift the weights, and we watched the pendulum swing. I could reach in and give the pendulum a push, but it would return to its regular rhythm within a couple of beats.
I’m going to try to remember that in the New Year.