Sunday, December 19, 2010

Don't Judge a Book by its Book Club

I can smile about it now but at the time it was terrible, to quote from the Smiths. I started a book club once. I cajoled, begged and bullied my co-workers into meeting once a month and discussing a book. We'd do it at work during lunch and we'd order book-themed food. This hooked most people as food is a sacred business to an office full of women. But the trouble with coercion, even nice, smiley friendly coercion, is that people will say yes, finally, but their hearts won't be into it. This lead, unfortunately, to me picking the first book we'd read. I picked Stiff by Mary Roach. I find this book fascinating and funny and poignant. The other girls did not. They found it gross and creepy and wondered what the hell I'd order in for lunch to go with a book about the science and history of cadavers. I admit, I was at a loss and ordered pizza. They voted not to let me pick again.

Next we read that book. The one they made into a movie. The one with Kumar in it...Right, The Namesake. It was a fine book. I liked that the kid was named Gogol. I liked lots of things about it. I especially liked that we ordered indian food for lunch. But I couldn't get people to talk about the book. Two of the women had not finished it and another said that she hated indian food. She brought her own egg salad sandwich.

This depressed me and since I was the only one keeping the book club ship afloat, it sank down to Davey Jones' locker, where it probably still sits. But it taught me something valuable. I don't like book clubs. I like talking about books with friends and I love grandstanding about books here (ya think?) but book clubs seem to be about the LCD of books. That's lowest common denominator. What will all the group like? What will everyone enjoy? What will please and not offend everyone? Well, I don't want to read something that everyone will like. I don't mean to say that I won't read something that's popular but I certainly won't read it because it's popular. Don't understand the Da Vinci code and can't get past page 10 of the GWTDT. Book Clubs are not for me.

After the dissolution of the book club, my boss at the time told me that she'd just read a book she loved and I should read it. That same Christmas my brother in law gave us the same book. The Time Traveler's Wife. My old boss is classic book club material. She's been going to a fancy moderated one for years. It's perfect for her and she has a great time. My brother in law is a musician from Chicago. He has awesome taste of an edgy and interesting bent. I was getting seriously mixed signals on this book. I could have just cracked the sucker open and made up my own mind, but I had (and always have) a serious book-debt, a waist high stack of books I am 'just about to start reading'. I put Audrey Niffenegger's book on the shelf where other books go that may or may make the cut.

Then Her Fearful Symmetry came out and the plot hooked me immediately. I love Highgate Cemetery, even though I only saw from the top of the double decker bus on my way to the northern london outskirts to visit friends. I love the book - twins, ghosts, London - what could be bad? I got a cold/hot feeling while reading it, like I had already read and loved it before, only I'd forgotten. I lent it to a friend, who belongs to the same book club as my old boss and who loved The Time Traveler's Wife. She hated Her Fearful Symmetry. I say again I am not book club material.

Audrey Niffenegger has a new book out called The Night Bookmobile. It is in essence a graphic novel. She's an artist as well as a writer and I've been looking at her artwork for years and never knew it - she illustrated the cover of Andre Bird's Music of Hair. It's been in our CD collection since my brother in law, Kevin, sent it to us. He plays on that album and lots of others. He's kind of a genius. I digress.

I haven't read Night Bookmobile yet, but I will love it. I know this because, even before I've read it, I've imagined it in my head. The premise is about a woman who stumbles upon a bookmobile containing every book she's ever read. As soon as I hear that, I'm in the bookmobile, running my hands over the books I've read, the ones that changed me and the ones that make me remember good times and awful times. Books contain my whole life and always will because I find myself in them. God I wish that bookmobile were real, as terrible as it would probably be.

So here's my new year's resolution: Keep a log of every book I read and why. Just a few sentences. I think I'll be surprised at the end of the year at some of the things that I chose to read or re-read. January 1st, I dust off The Time Traveler's Wife.

What's your New Year's book resolution?

By the way, you can see some of Audrey Niffenegger's amazing art here.


  1. What an excellent idea. I have to say, I tend to enjoy novels of the darker, macabre persuasion. Ghosts, darkness, sadness, insurmountable obstacles. Bring it on! I noticed you are a member of Shelfari. It became my alternative to a book club, yet I can't find time to post in my groups. I can't say the people are always welcoming either. I find they tend to enjoy the sound of their own voice, rather than discussing relevant topics in the book/novel. Whatever.

    I loved The Namesake as well as Unaccustomed Earth. I'm fascinated with Indian culture and Jhumpa Lahiri writes immigrant stories capturing my attention I can't put the novel down. I can only hope to write as lyrically as her one day.


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