The last book I reviewed was Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which was the selection chosen by my latest book group attempt. See, I’m a book club enthusiast, and not only do I love reading books, I love analyzing, arguing, and generally shooting the shit about them. Like a lot. I don’t really remember being in a formal book club as a kid, but I do remember how fun it was to be reading the same books as my friends and talking about them. Back in the ‘70s, there were limited entertainment options, so we did this old-timey thing called reading books. As a kid, my friends and I all fell in love with Laura Ingalls Wilder, and some of us more ambitious readers got turned on to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series, as well. Later, half my class got their period and read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, and then later on we tried weed and got scared shitless by Go Ask Alice. So I guess in some way I was socialized as a youngster to read and talk books with my friends, and I really really enjoyed it, even more so today. I’ve tried a few book clubs over the past couple decades, some more successful than others, and as long as I’m reading books, I’ll keep trying to find someone to talk to me about them. Below, is the history of my book group struggle.
The Food Club
The group was started by my close friend who wanted to hook up with a guy and was trying to figure out a way to get to know him, so she started the club. He showed up for the first meeting and never came back, but they did date for three years, so I guess it was a success? Anyway, this was the closest to my ideal book group. The make-up was co-ed, there were consistently ten people in attendance, and there was a diverse, if not particularly ambitious, selection of books, such as Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon and John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. My favorite part of the club though was that each person had a chance at hosting and paired the food to the book selection, so we had full-on meals based on the book. Think southern food for Cold Mountain and high tea for Northanger Abbey. Mmmm. I forgot how this club ended, but some of us wanted to continue, so a handful of us grabbed a couple more people and started another group. It didn’t last long, and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deer Slayer killed it.
In the early 2000s, I joined this French Chic online group, which was comprised of a bunch of women who sought to emulate French practices in their life. It mostly had to do with clothing and food, but they also had an online book club, which I tried for one selection. Of course the book had to be written by a French author, and so I ended up reading Thérèse Raquin by Émile Zola. Loved the book but found the online discussion a bit unwieldy. We also did the book in sections and had to be careful to not give spoilers. Maybe I just missed the food. Either way, that was the only book I read with the Frenchy group.
I have a book journal that says I was in a book group in 2003, but I have no memory of it whatsoever. I’m only calling it the Irish group as I’m married to an Irishman who says depression is an Irish characteristic like pale skin. In reviewing my journal, well, it doesn’t sound like a very chipper group: The Jungle, The Bell Jar, Animal Farm, Brave New World.
My Taekwondo friend joined a book group via her running buddy and got me into his book club. A bit of an intimidating group as they were all Harvard graduates — only my friend and I were from a non-Ivy league background. Regardless, we held our own. This group was quite small, about five people, and conversation stalled at times. A good selection of books, but not the most dynamic personalities or maybe it was just a weird mix of people (I’m including myself in the weirdness). Either way, I was only in it for a few months.
False Start Group
I was all gung-ho to finally start my own book group. We read three books together, and even though it was small, conversation was fluid. But then…well, then I started grad school. Buh-bye, book group and the rest of my life.
Le Book Group
I wanted a fancy name for my book club. So in January 2014, I started my last book club. I had been out of grad school for a few years, and I so badly missed discussing what I and others were reading. I was able to gather a mix of men and women, and friends from different areas of my life, like former co-workers, grad school classmates, running buddies, and my regular social circle. I enjoyed the book choices of fiction and non-fiction, and the discussions very much, but, well, the downfall was that I was the solo host, and it got to be a pain trying to coordinate schedules, get RSVPs, and host. I got a little burned out, so I put it on hold at the beginning of the year. I’ll most likely re-visit in the fall since, well, my last book group attempt was a bit of a fail.
Ladies Drinking Club With A Book Problem!
That’s the actual name of this meet-up group. Even though I don’t drink, this was a robust group in my neighborhood that read a lot of books and, best of all, already had a steady rotation of hosts! Aaahh, to just be a guest. Lovely. I wasn’t particularly enticed by the book selections, as I’m not really a chick lit fan, but I was able to find a couple that I thought would be fun to read: Wild and Yes Please. Well, if you’ve read my book reviews, you know that I couldn’t get past chapter two of Wild, so I passed on that meeting, but I did finish Amy Poehler’s book and showed up excited to meet new peeps to chat books with. They were a super welcoming group, and I was pleasantly surprised by the make-up of the group. There were a couple in the legal profession, a few in the arts, a software engineer, and a person in the cruise industry to name a few. The book discussion was lively and yay! another person didn’t care for Yes Please either. So that was the first hour. Then the first half of the book group name started taking hold, the wine bottles were getting emptied, and the discussion was getting a little less coherent and definitely veering off into other places, which, well, I want to talk about the book or other books, dammit! I cut out early, but they were still going strong on…I don’t know, I kind of zoned out. Probably not going back.
While this last foray into book clubs was ultimately a fail, I still love and am hopeful that I’ll be back in one. Besides the discussions, my favorite thing is when I’m pushed to read a book that I normally wouldn’t read, and I end up LOVING it. I’m bent towards non-fiction, so I defer to my fellow book club members to steer me into the fiction waters. Here are my favorite “Never Woulda Picked That to Read But So Glad I Did” selections.
Game of Thrones – Obviously this was before HBO made Khaleesi a household name. This book was chosen in the Harvard Smarty Pants Club. This guy picked it, and he described it as a political Dungeons and Dragons. Uh, WTF?! Dude, I couldn’t put it down, and ended up reading the next one. Get it together, George R.R. Martin, and finish the series before you succumb to diabetes!
Confederacy of Dunces – Reading about a depressed obese dude did not sound appealing, but my friend, who I trust wholeheartedly when it comes to books, swore up and down it was fantastic. She was right.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – I first heard about this book from the Smarty Pants Group, but we never read it. We ended up reading it in my False Start Group, and the group was definitely split on whether they liked it. This was one of those books that I did not enjoy for the first half as I just couldn’t connect with Junot Diaz’s rhythm, but then something clicked, and I relaxed and got into it, and OMG, I fucking loved it. I only kept reading because it was for the book group, and I chose it, and I wasn’t going to come unprepared. So thank you book club.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. ‘Nuff said.
Aaah, just writing this has me wishing for someone to talk to about whatever book I choose next, but I’m hopeful that sometime soon I’ll have another opportunity to say something like “Weren’t you disappointed there wasn’t more done with the cannibalism scene?” (City of Lights) or “Who thought you could end up hating a kid whose mom was murdered? Only Ellroy could make it so easy” (My Dark Places). For sure, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll be talking about a book set in Canada and eating a Tim Horton’s donut! Reading and discussing is in my DNA, so if you’re up for it and in the 818, hit me up!