I was privileged to participate in a program called
Leadership Montgomery six years ago. While I learned many lessons in that
leadership development program and made many contacts, by far the most
meaningful thing to come out of it was my book club, with five other women from
my graduating class.
Now, I’ve never before this wanted to be in a book club.I liked to read what I felt like reading,
when I felt like reading it. But this group changed my mind.
We like to think we’re one of the more eclectic book clubs
around, reading not just bestsellers and book club favorites but a selection of
sometimes not so well known fiction and non-fiction that invokes our curiosity
and pleases and challenges us. We follow a hybrid of book club styles, meaning
that there is dinner and lots of wine but we also thoroughly discuss the books.
Through the more than 30 books we’ve read together thus far we’ve
endured family drama with some twisted, some endearing characters; we’ve
experienced life as immigrants from Africa and China; we’ve lived as children in
the slums of India.We’ve been betrayed
by those we love; we’ve been up close and personal with the Loch Ness monster;
we’ve been an abused wife with a dark heart; we’ve had a harrowing escape from
We’ve grown up poor in Appalachia; we’ve been botanical
explorers; we’ve been taxi drivers and maids; we’ve been spies in Iran.We’ve had magical adventures in the Amazon
and Portugal; we’ve said yes to everything that scared us; we’ve journeyed
across the country to find adoptive parents. We’ve nearly been killed pushing
for girls’ education in Afghanistan; we’ve been Supreme Court justices,
abolitionists, scientific miracles, and Bollywood brides.
Sometimes book club members host at their homes, sometimes at
restaurants (we don’t judge). At our gatherings we’ve eaten Trinidadian
cuisine, Persian cuisine, vegetarian Chinese and more.We always have dessert, unapologetically.
Through the friendships we’ve developed as members of the
book club we’ve loved children and grandchildren; we’ve mourned mothers’
deaths; we’ve shared vicariously travels around the world; we've bemoaned political disasters. We’ve been
caregivers; we’ve had spouses gravely ill; we’ve retired, both permanently and
temporarily; we’ve taken on new challenges; we’ve struggled with jobs. We’ve
painted, published, mediated, advocated for the environment, run companies, served
our communities, loved our families, and lived rich and full lives.
We won’t let anything get in the way of
attending our book club meetings, and if something comes up that will, we change
the date so everyone can be there. The benefits are bifold—what we get from the
books and what we get from each other.
Books We’ve Read
·State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
·Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
·A Time to Betray by Reza Kahlili
·Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
·I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina
·My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
·The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
·The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi by Elif
·The Vacationers by Emma Straub
·The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
·Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
·The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
·The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
·When We Were Friends by Tina Seskis
·Grace in the Gray Areas by Karen Kullgren
·At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
·Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
·The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca
·The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev
·The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
·Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by
·Even in Paradise by Elizabeth Nunez
·Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and
Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My favorite teacher growing up was Kathy Kearnan.Miss Kearnan was my 6th grade
teacher and was the inspiration for two of the most important trajectories in
my life, my love of world cultures and of writing.
She always had us doing readings and projects in geography and
history where we learned about other countries. I had a long stint in the Asia
field academically and professionally (and personally, for that matter) that
probably had its roots in that early curriculum.
One of the biggest projects we did all year was a class
poetry book, where the students did everything from writing the poems to
binding the books in cloth we prepared ourselves. Miss Kearnan brought out the
poet in everyone, a lasting legacy for me and I’m sure others in the class.
On April Fool’s Day the class turned all our desks around
while Miss Kearnan was out of the room.She returned, supremely annoyed at the interruption, took away our
recess, and assigned us Russian schoolwork (we hadn’t studied Russian before
then) which we all diligently and grumblingly started on before we got the
Perhaps most importantly, the way she nurtured our talents
and skills gave me confidence in myself.
Miss Kearnan was a beautiful role model of a smart woman and
a devoted teacher I was lucky to have.
I wrote an
essay once about my mom with the alarmist title “I’m Turning into My Mother,”
and it chronicled some silly and scary things that I got from her. But the truth is more complex, because I also
got a lot of really fine qualities from this woman.
I got an
instinct to rescue abandoned baby birds and dogs wandering on the side of the
road, to listen to young people who were having trouble with their parents or
other parts of their lives, to offer shelter to friends and strangers.
I got a
strong sense of social justice, too: my mom always stood up for what was
right. She was one of the champions
right here in Rockville of a project to bring access to the town’s center to
residents of a predominantly black neighborhood on the “wrong side of the
I got a
pretty good sense of humor—we were neither of us ones for telling jokes but we
did enjoy them, and we both tried to appreciate the ones life played on us. When something set us off no one could reduce
me to tears of laughter the way Mom could.
I got an
excellent grounding in how to be a good friend by watching my mom be one as I
grew up. And I’m a better mother for
having been parented by her. Mom always strove to do the best for her children,
even as we became older adults, and she loved Jeff and me ferociously.
I got an
artistic sensibility though not as much as Mom had. We were all surprised and
thrilled when while doing her Associate’s degree at Montgomery College she
turned out to be a talented painter. And
she had her hand in all kinds of handiwork and other artistic endeavors with
her church crafter’s group.
I got a
penchant for sociability and sharing other people’s stories from Mom, too. Turns out she was quite the writer, as she
proved in the writing group she attended here at the church. And her
sociability was evidenced in things like her zipping around her beloved Fresh
Market on her scooter (a gift from her cousin Annetta) talking to all the
department managers about their respective days.
I got a
sense of civic responsibility from her from the time I was in elementary school
stuffing envelopes for political campaigns and hanging out the back of our
station wagon stumping for candidates.
Mom ran many political campaigns back in Holliston, Massachusetts where
Jeff and I grew up, and was highly respected in political circles there.
I got a lot
of strength and resilience from Mom, who weathered many a storm.
just a few things I got from my mother.
I also got imperfections and foibles, and a tendency to anxiety I could
do without. But in balance I wouldn’t have wanted to be anyone else’s daughter
other than Suzanne Marie Kullgren’s.