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Letters from the Homefront: ‘Virtual Book Club Meeting’

The following “Letters from the Homefront” account is part of our new initiative, Collecting in Quarantine. Inspired by the poignant letters in the Maryland Historical Society collection documenting past adversities from the Spanish flu of 1918, to the Annapolis yellow fever epidemics of 1793 and 1800, MdHS is calling on Marylanders to send their personal stories of how the pandemic is impacting their lives.

Portrait of Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
A member of the Ladies Eat and Read Society, today’s contributor reflects on hosting a book club during quarantine. Portrait of Elizabeth Foreman Lewis reading, photograph by unidentified photographer, undated, PP92.119. Emily Spencer Hayden Photograph Collection, PP92, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.

April 18, 2020 – On this day, Joanne from Columbia writes:

More than 20 years ago, two other avid readers and I formed a neighborhood book club in Columbia. We met at each other’s homes — we could walk to most meetings. Today, we still meet at each other’s homes, but every meeting brings a distinct drive to Baltimore, Eldersburg, Middle River, Easton, Columbia, or Churchton, and we appreciate the changes in scenery — from urban to seaside.

Once at a member’s home, we admire flowering azaleas, pet the downy-furred cat, or study the newly hung painting or family photos. Members hug one another and huddle in corners sipping wine and catching up while the aroma of a rich Hungarian stew or baking apple pie permeates the room and whets our appetites. We are, after all, the Ladies Eat and Read Society, and as such, along with sharing book titles and discussions, we enjoy a smorgasbord of culinary delights, proffered by each of us, served on fine china or paper plates in pleasing and varied settings.

How could a virtual meeting required by the COVID-19 quarantine satisfy this book club?

On a coordinated date and time, we met onscreen via WebEx hosted by one of our technically savvy members. After so many weeks, most of which we, being of a certain age, were sequestered, we saw all of us together at once in our “Brady Bunch” gallery boxes.

We beamed! We glowed with open joy. Dressed more casually than usual — in slogan-bearing T-shirts and sweats — we got deeper pictures of our members. Our varied personalities shone, but close up — animated, intellectual, comedic, serious — right through the screen. We oooed at pictures of a new grandbaby; discussed pressures of working from home; relayed stories of standing in toilet paper lines, social distancing, and good deeds; and mourned sorrows of some of our families. While we occasionally took turns talking so we could hear and respond to each other clearly, the familiar cacophony of all our voices together was comforting. We were us!

We spent some time discussing the characters, setting, plot, subplots, and the protagonist’s isolated life of Where the Crawdads Sing, even comparing it to our own isolation today. But the book wasn’t what the meeting was about. Instead, as we raised our wine glasses, beer bottles, and coffee cups at the meeting’s end and pledged to see each other at the next virtual meeting, we recognized the attention, affection, assurance, support, and friendship that had come out of sharing our love of books.

Please note: The views, information, and opinions expressed and shared on the underbelly through the Collecting in Quarantine project do not necessarily represent those of the Maryland Historical Society. Our staff does not verify for accuracy the information contained within these submissions. We also do not edit the content beyond minor modifications for formatting or to remove personally identifying information, if applicable. Just like the historic letters in our collection, each letter presents the writer’s own perspective. The primary purpose of this series, with the permission of contributors, is to share and collect the experiences of Marylanders living through the COVID-19 crisis at this moment in time.

To learn more about the Collecting in Quarantine project and how to share a story of your own, click here.