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A book group gathering

"What's the point of having a book club if you don't get to eat brownies and drink wine?" Jami Attenberg

I am actually in two bookclubs - one which I joined shortly after coming to Australia as a way of meeting new people - and we are still going. The other is local and was started by our founding member who thought it would be a good idea for meeting all our neighbours properly rather than waving a distant hello. And it was. She has been running the club for 21 years, but at the end of last year she resigned from the running thereof - not the book club itself. So yesterday we all gathered at a local café - Main - for coffee and cake and a thank you. Well all that was just an excuse really to get out of the everyday routine and meet with friends - some no longer in the club but still friends - in a trendy - yes I think you could probably call it trendy - café. Maybe you can't call it trendy because it's in Eltham.

Book groups first. Two things.

One is that we don't actually have a club meeting in February, and not really in December. In December we party and choose next year's books. But on reflection why is that? Maybe it's a hangover from when we were all working and had children at home to monopolise our attention in the school holidays. Now, just about all of us, not quite all, have retired, and so there is no real logical reason why we couldn't have a meeting in January as well. December, admittedly is just too hard. But then again I guess it's nice to have a break, and catch up with books that you have chosen yourself. Book groups are very good for making you read books you might otherwise pass by, or make you read a book a bit more carefully than you might ordinarily. A holiday is an opportunity to indulge yourself in your own quirky tastes, even read relative rubbish. I find, these days, that I can't read real rubbish. My sister actually left her book group because she was fed up with reading other people's choices rather than her own which is fair enough. I do like being challenged a bit now and then though. And the social aspect of it all is just too great to pass up.

This is us at our 20 year reunion I think.

Not a guy in sight, because the second thing about book groups is that they are largely female aren't they? One is tempted to say that women are therefore more intellectual, that men are only interested in mechanical things and sport. Indeed our local book group has an offshoot, which came about because the husbands were left to their own devices once a month. So they began to gather together in a 'wine club'. No - they don't discuss wine in a knowledgeable sort of way - or even restrict each month to a particular kind of wine. They just drink it - only red - and gossip - and socialise, because there are also some women here - those that don't want to join the book group. Maybe they talk about sport and politics and machines as well. And then at Christmas we all get together for a big party. Well it was a smaller party perhaps last year because of COVID, although at the time we were allowed 30 people and I think that's how many there were. Anyway the wine group is really, really good and, together with the book group has made our neighbourhood a real community.

Back to why men though? Long ago I heard a 'theory' that said there were three levels of people - those who were interested in ideas, those who were interested in people and those who were interested in things. Men fell into groups one and three. Women into two. And as a sweeping generalisation I guess it works. So why don't men gather in book groups to discuss books? Personally I think it's a sort of Catch 22, mostly women it because they like to read and socialise - men - sweeping generalisation again - don't read. My husband told me as much just the other day. And he's an English literature graduate. And because it's women who form book groups it's therefore below consideration for a man. Women don't do anything serious - even though the evidence is very strongly against this these days. I actually think it's a missed opportunity - for both sexes. For inevitably if you have just one sex talking about something you will get a somewhat lopsided view. Men tend to stir more too. Although the danger is that they might dominate perhaps. My other group has, very briefly in the past, had a lone male in the group. One stayed for a few sessions, the other just one I think. Are we frightening do you think? Mind you I wouldn't like to be a lone female in a group of men, so they probably think the same.

But what about food? Yes we drink a glass of wine, and we eat cake. There is always cake - after the discussion - which is when we gossip - or - put another way - catch up with each other's lives. There are nibbly things as well as we discuss and recipes for the cakes are often exchanged. And no, it's not a competition, and no it's not the main thing.

Yesterday, however, was purely catching up and indulging. We sat at this table here I think - almost overlooking the main road. Now a few of my fellow book clubbers, frequent the various cafés in Eltham on a very regular basis, and I think it was these who abstained from cake. There are at least a dozen cafés in Eltham. How times have changed. When I was young and living in suburbia with small children there were not really any such places in which to gather. At least I don't remember any. There were a few restaurants - mostly ethnic but we young mums - maybe we were even yummy mummies and didn't know it - just met in each other's houses with our children for a cup of coffee and cake.

Main is one of the older cafés in Eltham. It is called Main because it is situated on Main Road, which happens to be the main road through Eltham. I suppose the suggestion is that they are the main place to meet and eat as well. Main Road is it's technical address but as you can see from the picture at the top of the page you actually get into it from the small shopping arcade that houses Coles, Chemist Warehouse and few other shops. I could write a whole post about this arcade another time, I have just thought because it's really quite interesting. Over the years Main has become more upmarket it seems to me. I have the feeling that originally the back section in which the table above is situated, seemed to be almost like a sleep out in an old country house. Tatty roof, unfinished concrete floor and plastic windows? Or is that a false memory? Nowadays it is sort of industrial chic, like all those inner suburban trendy eateries, and has recently extended out on to the terrace overlooking the main road. In fact I think I may even have noticed some tables on the pavement below. I also notice that they now have a takeaway service too. Because this is an all day place - they do breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee and cake in between. To me, as a non frequenter, the cakes were the thing. As you pass by on your way to Coles you can't help but notice an eye-catching display of cakes, slices and biscuits.

This is just a small section of it. The shelf below (empty in this photograph) is usually full of lavish large cakes. You can just buy them I know. I have done so once or twice, but today I was able to indulge. I thought I shouldn't go too mad so had a slice - an Anzac caramel slice - modest I thought. But it was brought to my place on a large plate, lovingly decorated with flowers and sprinkles of something red. I don't know what the red was. Dried, powdered something I suppose, or sugar transformed somehow. I felt a bit better, when I saw that one of my companions had also had her relatively small lemon tart given the posh treatment. My slice was very tasty and the pastry was beautifully crumbly.

Another friend's Florentine kind of cookie was on a small plate. Cookies on small plates I suppose. The muffins were enormous though. Full marks for presentation though. And the vanilla slice ordered by another of our company was large - as, I suppose, vanilla slices traditionally are.

The other thing that I noted was the vast range of coffees that we are all now able to order without a blink. Ordinary lattes, cappuccinos and long blacks of course, but there is also skinny, decaf, soy and so on, not to mention the iced coffee or the affagato. I didn't know they had affogato. I love affogato and should have had that. It was a warm day.

We stayed there for at least a couple of hours, so much so that some were worrying about parking tickets, and yet we only had one round of drinks and not everybody had cake. Now admittedly we were the in-between session I guess, and they did not seem to be fazed by this at all but really you would have to wonder how they make money wouldn't you? On their website is this picture of their staff:

It's possible it's an old photo. It's possible some of these are only part-time, but that's a lot of people to pay, plus the rent. It was fairly busy but not full. I don't know whether this is how it always is, whether it was the time of day, or whether it is because of COVID restrictions. Maybe the Uber thing was brought in when we all went into lockdown and has become successful enough to keep going. It must be doing something right though as it has been there for a very long time.

I even mastered this code thing - I've forgotten what you all them - that you had to scan with your phone - for government COVID regulations. Mind you I had to ask one of my more smart phone savvy friends what I had to do. I'm hopeless with smart phones.

Looking forward to the first actual book group - The White Girl, by Tony Birch - probably a popular book club choice of the moment. It's been promoted a fair bit of late. And by the way the publishing industry loves book clubs. No surprises there I suppose, though a millennial that we met the other day, said that her generation did not read actual books. Audible is the big thing with them. They don't even do Kindle.


Today is one of those magic - to me anyway - numbers. Depending on how you organise your dates, it's either 21/1/21 or 1/21/21. And those individual numbers add up to 7 - a lucky and a prime number. A binary day. How good is that? Some time ago my other book group read an absolutely wonderful book called The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yōko Ogawa. The professor was a mathematician who was losing his memory, and the housekeeper had a young son. Anyway the professor kept on pointing out intriguing things about everyday numbers such as this one to his uneducated housekeeper. Today is a number to dream on.

Book groups are wonderful things. If you're not in one, start one today. My daughter-in-law has just done that. Hers is international, local and interstate and therefore operates via Zoom, but as COVID taught us, this is possible too. It is nice to have coffee and cake in a café though.


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