Overheard the other night: "My book club kicked me out."
I wanted to spin around and give this woman a big hug, because finally I found someone who might agree with me on this little acknowledged fact: book clubs suck.
My very first book club -- and the only one that didn’t suck -- was in 5th grade. It was called “Great Books.” If you were asked/told you were going to “Great Books,” it meant that you were smart. Special. Advanced.
I walked down the hallway of St. Andrew elementary with a spring in my knee-socked little step. While all the other kids were doing tedious tasks like textbook exercises on page 211, I got to go to the conference room usually reserved for teachers and adults. Further proof of my excellence.
We even got to sit in a circle instead of long boring rows. My small feet dangled off the adult-sized folding chairs. Despite the fact I didn’t know anyone -- the group was made up for only one or two kids from each class -- I wasn’t nervous or scared because we had one thing in common: the book.
Since then, many book clubs have come and gone. All have left me unsatisfied.
Like so many first dates, I would go in to each club meeting ripe with enthusiasm, hope, and good intentions. Sometimes I gave it a few books. It’ll get better after “Midwives” I told myself. I’ll just hold out until “We were the Mulvaneys.”
After a while, this girl of the great-memories-of-her-first-book club came to the sorry, aforementioned conclusion: Book clubs suck. Why? Let me explain.
1. Book clubs make me feel like I have an assignment.
Whereas “Great Books” made me feel like reading a book was getting me out of an assignment, book clubs just make me feel like I’m doing an assignment. On this date and this time. Now discuss.
And, sometimes I don’t want to talk about the book! Sometimes I just want to sit with it, let it spread out and evolve inside me. Sometimes I’m just not ready to share. I don’t really want to hear others moan about how they didn’t “get” the main character’s blah-bety blah bah. I just want to be with it.
2. Nobody reads the book
Here I am, hosting, all prepared with my underlined copy of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” ready for a thrilling night of intellectual discourse. Instead, I find myself sneering at those gallivanting mushroom cap-snatchers who stroll in and feed at my literary trough and have nothing to contribute.
They laugh and guffaw at each other while I am trying to lead an evening of discussion, thank you very much. I get rolling eyeballs when I put forth an “Ahem…if we could all bring our attention back to the book.” Slackers.
3. YOU don't read the book
All right, I admit it. One time I just didn’t get to the book. Thus, it was my turn to suffer through a holier-than-though hostess giving me the stink-eye over the hors d'oeuvres.
4. People read the book but spend the whole time talking about their marriages, kids or dating dramas.
Newsflash: This is exactly the kind of thing we are here to avoid. So grab a Cosmo and get your ass on the sofa and let’s talk POV.
5. The book they picked is lame.
I secretly resent having to read the lame-o book someone else picked, and it’s not my turn for another six months. Hmph.
6. It’s impossible to keep it going.
My best book club experience ever was with a bunch of girls I met through a "meet up" type thing. We assembled at a funky coffee shop in Hollywood with our copies of “Unaccustomed Earth.” We laughed, had meaningful discourse, and drank vanilla lattes and nibbled biscotti. It was perfect, and it never happened again. It was a Book Club One Night Stand.
Maybe it’s better than way. After all, new book clubs are always good in the beginning. New people, a compelling novel, someone’s fantastic lakeside house. A really good spinach dip.
But, it never lasts.
People go on vacation, have babies, drop out. And when the herd thins to four ladies, it’s a recipe for the end. Then it’s only a thinly veiled excuse for a girls’ night. So let’s just drop the book act and just drink.
Certainly, “going to my book club” has more gravitas than “My friends and I are hanging out over Wheat Thins and Diet Cokes while reading back issues of People Magazine." Book club, on the other hand, feels productive. Important. See? I’m going to leave my spouse/children/dogs at home because I am a good citizen. I am going to my book club. I am contributing to literariness itself!
What if we gave ourselves permission to do any and all of those things without needing book club as a backdrop to get ourselves together?
Call me a snob. But, after my sucky book club experiences, I would rather just read the damn book myself. If one of my close friends or sisters wanted to read it, too, and chat about it, that’d be fine. But then, that’s not a book club. Or is it?
Is it like God -- wherever two or three of us are gathered (in the name of “Eat, Pray, Love”) -- there is a book club? Why do we really start, join and leave book clubs? Just what are we trying to prove, and to whom? And why must we meet in small groups over hummus and cheap red wine to do it?
Discuss. And pass the pretzels.