I’ve had a close relationship with my grandmother, Beverly, for as long as I can remember. From the beginning, there was no typical “grandparent” name for her – she insisted on being called ‘GrandB,’ and it still fits today. There isn’t much about her that can be described as conformist, and that’s only part of what makes her a national treasure.
At 88 years old, my GrandB identifies as “a girl who’d rather stay in tonight” – just like me, some 50+ years her junior. Discerning and undeterred by caution or calamity, Beverly has always liked reading and loved learning, traits which she passed down to my mother, and through her, to me. I love her for many reasons, and I like her because she’s always been tough but fair, and incredibly smart.
In getting involved with Girls’ Night In as an attendee, and more recently as a host, I’ve had the privilege of sharing a handful of book club picks with her – something I didn’t quite see coming, but thoroughly enjoy. It’s had wonderful impact on our relationship, and it warms my heart to speak with her every week about what she’s reading and how she feels about it (and also to occasionally learn that she’s passed along one of the titles to a friend). Age is more than a number, it’s a mindset – for my grandmother and her friends, books allow them to travel freely, even if their knees just aren’t up for it.
If you have an older friend or relative who you’re looking to connect with, I suggest lending them a book and calling them a week or two later to discuss it. You’d be surprised how easily the conversation will flow. This week, I wanted to share our book talk with you - in the form of an interview – and, true to form, my GrandB’s answers may surprise you!
Sharing these books and experiences with my grandmother is such a joy, and getting to share her with you even moreso. If you take one thing away from this, I hope it’s a reminder to call your elderly relative(s) or friend(s) this week – there’s so much to talk about when you start sharing favorite (and even not-favorite) books with them!
Jameson Roth, D.C. City Host
Okay – I know you’ve been reading some GNI Reads books alongside us! Have you ever been a part of a book club, formal or in formal?
No, I haven’t. Book clubs in the 1940s and 50s when I was younger weren’t particularly popular. And when I graduated college in ’52, I started traveling through Europe, and until I moved to Baltimore and started having children in my married life, I was never in one place for very long. I was never anywhere long enough to meet enough people for a regular book club. And when I think about it, I had never heard of such a thing as ‘book clubs’ when I was your age. They are a more recent phenomenon.
I have been part of salons, poetry and the like, at which each participant took turns picking a subject for discussion and everyone else had to bring their thoughts – similar, but not quite the same.
Have you always liked to read? Can you remember a book that stands out to you as defining in your reading career?
Oh, yes. I started out in my younger days, with Ferdinand the Bull, Nancy Drew mysteries and Lassie-Come-Homes, until I graduated to more adult titles. The one that started me on the road to what I like to read was Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It’s interesting, it applied not just to France when he wrote it, but the sociopolitical injustices throughout Europe. It actually formed the basis of my political beliefs through the years and up to today.
I’ve always loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of the American books that dealt with similar sociopolitical issues. I still read the Christmas-themed passages every Christmas. I loved reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis, and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. My true literary love, however, is found in historical texts. I introduced my late husband to fictionalized retellings, like those written by Sharon Kay Penman. Her books about medieval England are marvelous. My late daughter loved them too – she picked them up after I did, and we traded them back and forth. Reading was a big, positive part of our relationship.
How has a love of reading books shaped you over your lifetime?
Well, it taught me a lot; I learned a lot of things I wouldn’t have considered or thought about discussing. I started to read Shakespeare and other famous playwrights in my adult life after I got into theater, which led me to teach in my retirement years. I taught many classes on famous playwrights at the Osher School of Lifelong Learning through the University of Delaware in Lewes (my favorite is Tennessee Williams). I had to get into the biographies of playwrights to know enough to teach the courses. It became a large part of my life. I’ve found reading can really lead you down all sorts of paths. When you get to be my age, it’s all a collective experience.
Have or how have books shaped your friendships/communities over the years?
[Reading] drew me to people who had the same sort of philosophies and feelings - those who liked to talk about books and would say, “You’ve got to read this!” about whatever they were reading at the time. We’d pass books back and forth. I would say it helped deepen some of my friendships over the years that I still have today.
How do you think we can use books to find common ground within families and across generations?
I’ve been very pleased that you want to talk to me about the books and share them with me at all. I’m very proud you, that you’re into it so much, and pleased that you’re doing so well with it.
Which GNI Reads books have you read?
I’ve read A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum, and it was about something completely new to me. I had no idea about it; it was a whole new thought, a whole new idea. it really shaped my worldview, much like Pachinko. I’d never read that story before. What happened to [the author], the fact she was able to break away from that traumatic situation and become the strong woman she is now, is really amazing. I can’t relate personally to her experience, but I worked as Executive Director of Girl Scouts of Central Maryland before joining the executive staff of the Girl Scouts of America Troops (stationed in NATO) in my younger years and will always love to read about strong women across cultures.
Which GNI Reads pick has been your favorite and why?
I very much enjoyed talking to you about Pachinko by Min Jin Lee - it’s still my favorite one I’ve read so far. I had no idea North Korea developed the way it did, in conjunction with the problems of today, because of the problems from way back then. I wouldn’t have read it if you hadn’t brought it to my attention. It’s important to dealing with more modern phases of history – I’m always interested to know how millennials are thinking about the goings-on in the world.
What are you reading now/what’s on your list of books to read?
I’m starting to read The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, and so far, it’s interesting, I’m not very far into it as of yet. I also have Circe by Madeline Miller, and it looks like a good one. I did read All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. All good choices. You keep saying I’ll love this month’s book, Trick Mirror, so I guess I’ll have to read that one, too.
What are your thoughts on GNI’s development of book club communities as social gatherings?
They sound fantastic. It’s great Girls’ Night In is really working on it. To my knowledge, book clubs only happened in my younger days when organized informally by individuals whenever they had time. To have somebody in charge of organizing them within communities with interchangeable stories and discussions is instrumental - and it might save our bookstores and libraries, on top of that. Computers have been taking the place of and the time for reading; but working really hard to organize the book clubs and giving others the chance to exchange perspectives – it gives the participants a way to meet new people and get out of their ‘shells’, to speak. I think it’s a great idea, I really do.
Beverly L. Gayhardt is a retired world-traveler who likes to read and loves to learn. Much like her eldest granddaughter, she too, is a huge fan of all animals and most people. Originally from San Diego, California, Beverly now resides in Baltimore, Maryland, where you can find her in charge of pretty much everything.