Story stresses the importance of friendships

Story stresses the importance of friendships

In her Jan. 20 column, my co-worker Kasia Hopkins mentioned a significant occupational hazard that many librarians face: We have a general inclination toward reading a greater number of new books than older ones.

Since being employed at the library, I've managed to build a substantial list of books to read. There are, of course, the requisite older titles that patrons and co-workers recommend. But, given my occupation, the books on my list are mainly new titles that I've recently seen in publisher reviews — and later when cataloging.

With all the books I plan to read, it really is a wonder I ever get anything else done. And, for that matter, it's a wonder that I can remember all of the titles. Fortunately, I've begun Hopkins' habit of using Goodreads.com to keep track of my ever-growing list of future reads.

Often, in addition to using Goodreads.com, I like to create postponed hold requests through the library. My logic is that while this month is full of things to do and books to read, next month will offer more time for reading. In any given month, the joke is usually on me, however, when I end up with five books waiting for me on the library's hold shelf.

Last year, when the holidays were reaching the brink of chaos, I decided to postpone a hold request for "The J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society" by Barbara J. Zitwer. I came across the book while cataloging and decided it would be a perfect January read.

So when it recently arrived on the hold shelf for me, I was more than eager to dive in. (I admit that I still have four titles waiting for me on the hold shelf, but I'll get to them tomorrow.)

With an overarching theme of the importance of friendship, this book reminds readers about the true value of personal relationships. So often, people let their work and life's troubles gradually take over their personal time, letting friendships go by the wayside.

Work becomes a priority, dinner dates get canceled and visits get postponed until the closest of friends are nothing more than distant acquaintances. Women who once called each other sisters now barely recognize the person that the other has become, claiming they've grown apart because they're at different places in their lives.

This is the situation that Joey Rubin faces when presented with the opportunity to reconnect with a longtime friend. Joey and Sarah were practically sisters, spending all their time together, until Sarah moved to London to be with her boyfriend, Henry. Sarah later married and raised a family with Henry, choosing to stay in London.

Joey, a single New York architect, finds herself unable to relate to Sarah's life, nor Sarah to Joey's. But when Joey's job brings her to the Cotswolds in January for the restoration of Stanway House — the home where J.M. Barrie resided while writing "Peter Pan" — the two women must face their past hurts and resentments.

Is it possible for them to start over with a clean slate, to turn the page and restore the friendship? Or will they let their hurt and anger get in the way?

Amid her personal dilemmas, Joey befriends the eccentric quintet of the J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society: Aggie, Meg, Gala, Lilia and Viv. Friends for more than 50 years who refer to themselves as the "lost girls," these ancient ladies routinely go to their own "Neverland," where they faithfully swim each day — rain, shine or snow.

Joey begins participating in the icy daily ritual of swimming in the pond and gradually learns about the women's past lives, loves and losses. She sees the great disparities between the women, observes their squabbles and tiffs, yet recognizes the bond that the five share with one another.

Joey initially comments on the friendship as many of us would, saying they were lucky be such close friends. But Aggie explains to her the truth of friendship, saying that "luck has nothing to do with it. ... We decided to become friends and to stay friends, through thick and the thin, warts and all."

With zany, memorable characters, vivid descriptions of antique architecture, London, and the Cotswolds, "Peter Pan" references and lasting lessons in friendship, "The J.M. Barrie Ladies' Swimming Society" is definitely a book to read. Today, tomorrow or next month, it doesn't matter. Just be sure to add it to your to-read list.

Amber Castens is an adult and teen services librarian at the Urbana Free Library, where she is also the technology volunteer program coordinator.

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