• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Let’s Do Some Living After We Die

According to  Bookmovement.com, where over 26,000 book club groups are registered, here are the top twenty book club picks of 2010:

The Help, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sarah’s Key, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, The Next Thing on My List, Little Bee, A Reliable Wife, Olive Kitteridge, Cutting for Stone, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Water for Elephants, The Book Thief, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Eat Pray Love, The Glass Castle : A Memoir, The Wednesday Sisters, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The 19th Wife, The Forgotten Garden, and Three Cups of Tea.

I believe that all of these books have sold over a million copies, some many more. If you are fortunate enough to have a book go viral on the book club circuit, it is a mighty force.

Personally, I hate book clubs. I hate clubs. I like to do most things alone that most  people like to do together. These include:  eat, go to movies, take walks or run, shop, take long drives, and sing. I would rather be pummeled with a manure filled sock than  sit around and drink bad red wine and listen to anyone say that he didn’t like a character because she was unsympathetic.

Some say I hate book groups because I hate myself. Some say I hate book groups because I’m perverse. Sure. No argument from me. Some say it’s because I’m around books all day. I think it’s because the best part of reading for me is being by myself and going into some parallel universe, and sharing that with other people would be like sharing my candy. Reading for me equals solitude.

What about you?

61 Responses

  1. Reading allows me to turn off the constant K-FUCK radio station that plays in my head. Why in the hell would I want to contaminate that with an onslaught of opinions, especially while I’m clutching a glass of Two Buck Chuck and eating a stale Triscuit? Fuck. That.

  2. I hate book clubs as much as I hate writing workshops. Quite frankly, 99 percent of those people WHO TAKE PART are too stupid for me to engage. And that one person who isn’t? I hate him/her with a fiery passion. And I have no tools with which to manage the fear.

    I hate groups. I hate teams. I hate being a part of something. I prefer to cry in peace.

    And this is why I still drink. If I were to ever attend an AA meeting, my obituary would read: she died of alcohol poisoning.

  3. Depends on the book and my mood.

    Sometimes I can help sharing bits of dialogue or a good line to whomever happens to be closest. Sometimes I want private alone time to savor. Sometimes I want to gripe and complain as I go along.

    And sometimes I want to get the hell away from my life, fall through the hole in the paper and pull it shut behind me..

    But join a club? Nah. I love giving booktalks to patrons and students and writing reviews, or discussing a book with friends over lunch, but that’s as far as it goes.

  4. Reading this makes me very happy. I’m going to bed now with some Mary Robson.

  5. I hate assigned reading. I’d be a horrible book club participant. And if I HAD read the book, I’d be too annoyed with everyone else’s opinions about the book that I’d never go again.

    Book clubs are probably not for me. I can only fit me, my book, and my opinions into the room.

  6. My husband likes to screw with me by making up stupid lyrics to my favorite songs – thereby ruining those songs for me, forever. (I can’t even tell you what he did to Wild Horses. It would break your heart.)

    Hearing someone pick apart a book I loved would be exactly like that. I need books to have their own unadulterated head space.

  7. I think Betsy hit a rich vein. Good books create solitude. The others create a hostage situation. It is really that simple. And yet but another question, why read? Looking for answers no doubt.

  8. Oh God yes. I hate book clubs. HATE. Every time someone starts one they ask me because they’re like ‘OMG SpringChicken, you totally read books! Join our book club’ You know what it is? Hell yes I want to be alone with my books and my thoughts and I don’t want to hear it if someone disagrees with what I love or hate about a book. It is not a group activity. I gave an ex-boyfriend a copy of Never Let Me Go as a present and he told me a few months later ‘I read some more of the book you gave me and I don’t know if I like it. The narrative is too slow.’ And even though I knew it wasn’t rational, in my head I was all ‘you’re a cretin and I can’t possibly entertain the thought of making babies with you.’

    So in short, do I want to risk similarly turning against friends and other innocent book reading acquaintances? I do not.

    Also, I might have had a few glasses of wine before commenting on this post. It’s been that kind of day. Sue me.

  9. having to go along with someone else’s book selection is the same as letting someone else name your baby.

    • and btw, i am anxiously awaiting to read about august’s last book club experience. please, a, tell me about the books they forced you to read and the hor d’oeuvres (whore words) they made you eat. what did you drink and what was the best (and by best, i mean worst) insight made. i’ve got a long day ahead of me and i don’t drink; i need something to take the edge off. please?

  10. Mixed feelings. When I moved to the West Coast the only person I knew was my then-boyfriend–so I was all about joining stuff. Book club I stumbled upon turned out to be loverly, actually. There were eight of us, including an excellent musician and fellow Elastica fan, a marine biologist, a painter, a couple of teachers. We drank a lot of red wine that wasn’t very good–neither was it very bad, had pot-luck dinners, took breaks for people to play music or just hang out. Read McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, Nabokov’s Bend Sinister, Proulx’s The Shipping News, Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. We chose what I thought were well written and interesting books–and so spent our time admiring sentences, reading aloud, discussing characters, philosophies, tangents, praising! This was in the mid-90s. Didn’t realize what we had and, well, broke up after a year. Sigh. 😉 Tried joining another and it just wasn’t the same (memories). I’m all for loosely structured meet-ups with one or two absolute requirements. And if the people are interesting enough usually the group takes on a life of its own and the “requirements” slip quietly out the back door.

    One of my all time favorite songs, by the way. Also like The Misfits (Marilyn Monroe movie), which comes to mind when I hear the song (it’s the horse bit).

    *A belated thank-you for yesterday’s post, which was brilliantly detailed and funny. Thank you for that!

  11. For me books and films are intensely personal experiences. I like to live in them for a while, try them on and see how they affect me. I do love the post mortem on a good film (only with my sister) but books I need to have to myself.

    As for clubs, what Groucho Marx said…


  12. I read a LOT, but I have not read a single book on that list, and there are several that I wouldn’t read if somebody smacked me in the face with a sock. (Thank goodness for reviews, to weed out the particular kind of stuff I avoid.)

    I hate groups of all kinds, including, occasionally, my family. Being in a group means compromise, and compromise means not getting what I want. I realize that sounds selfish, but usually what I want is pretty modest.

    Every group has at least one ignoramus who has completely missed the point, and goes on at extreme, boring length to justify their POV. I will never forget the woman in a writing class who would NOT accept that Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants was about abortion. Gadzooks.

    • LOL Bonnie. I recently had to listen to a graduate student in literature explain — at length — how she has never, not even as a child, read a book for pleasure. She claimed all writers were manipulative pricks (even the women) and she loved deconstructing their books to show just that. And then there was the guy who’d never heard of Truman Capote. As my mom used to say, “You can’t fix stupid.”

  13. Yes, reading is initially a solitary activity (as writing is); yes, book groups are often as much about the group (i.e., the people) as about the book. And yet I enjoyed the only book group I’ve belonged to.

    The discussions in that group were similar to the discussions in a class, minus the teacher: some of the comments were useful, some weren’t, but they all illuminated something about people, just as this blog does, namely that people are different. Old Japanese expression: 10 men, 10 minds. (Pardon the gender exclusivity.)

    As for people not liking what I like (I recall being disappointed that hardly anyone else appreciated Joan Didion’s prose style in _After Henry_), roughly half the good discussions I’ve had on any subject–theater, plays, films, books, even politics–have come from talking to people I disagreed with.

    You can only say “There’s no accounting for taste” if you haven’t tried to account for your taste, or–just as important–for someone else’s.

  14. I’m not a joiner. I spent my career working for associations which is pretty much working for clubs of people who join things. No thanks. I like to read alone and if I want to talk about the book, I’ll bore my husband with it. It’s quid pro quo. He explains some calculus thing, I read quotes from whatever book I’m reading.

  15. After years of being told that books are just objects to pick up and vaguely flip through when one has nothing better to do (how DARE people speak of my best friends thus!) and being made to feel that enjoying solitude means that there must be something fundamentally wrong with me, I had almost come to believe all that rubbish. Thank you for this post.

  16. Yep. What you said.

  17. Book clubs? No thanks, none for me.

    I don’t think book clubs are really useful. Every time I’ve tried one, I’ve found it to be just a stage where big personalities get together to strut. It’s usually the group’s founder … looking for an audience for his or her enormous, control-freakish ego. It’s never really democratic.

    I’d rather hear a lecture or just talk about a book with someone who can actually carry on a conversation. It doesn’t have to be formal, intellectual. That takes the fun out of it.

    On groups – Don’t they only work if there’s actually a tangible goal? Like a sport, a class, a music group, something like that? That’s been my experience.

  18. Book clubs? ugh…no way. I’ve read almost every book on that list and liked most of them…..for what it’s worth.

  19. As a writer I don’t really dig book clubs. I’m sure they serve a purpose. But I honestly don’t have the answers readers are looking for sometimes. I find readers pick up on things they assume are metaphors and I’m scrambling to figure out what the hell they are talking about. I write what I write b/c I’m compelled to. If you unearth some secret message from it, good for you but don’t expect me to agree (although I may nod and look stupid just because I don’t know what else to do).

    • You can quit nodding stupidly and start lifting your head to see that people have never gotten together like this before, in the whole history of people. That, my friend, is something to take notice of. And then, start worrying about what your books are about. What, pray tell us, are people looking for. And yes, thus spraketh Jeff.

  20. BTW love your cat photo… I have a similar boy (medium haired) named Blue… 🙂

  21. It seems I keep meeting the same people when I try a group. There’s the uber academician, the control freak who can’t bear to deviate from the given conversation plan, the one with the big bottom and sharp tongue, the one who takes inventory of everyone’s accomplishments to measure their own worth, the one who agrees with everything you say, the one who disagrees with anything you say, the one who came so they can show you the new Nordstrom’s purchase, the one who saw the movie, and the one you’d like to hear but can’t over everyone else.

    • Admit it Deb, you’ve BEEN to my book club. My current one. And all of my previous ones! I can tell from your list.

      Confession: I’ve been in a book club of some sort for the last 10 years. I move a lot, and it’s been a good way to get to know people. Of course it stabs me right in the heart when I choose the book and they either don’t read it or don’t like it. When I picked Margaret Atwood’s CATS EYE, I showed up for book club night with excited expectation. Then I wanted to cry and scream when people said things like, “All that time-shifting was confusing,” and “I didn’t really get it,” and “I don’t remember little girls being that mean.”

      I’m not the best book club member though. When someone picks a book like THE HOT FLASH CLUB or that SWEET POTATO QUEENS-thing, I just don’t read them.

  22. I like to read between the lines and get underneath the layers. A book club helps ypu to read which is good. Most days I am consumed with productivith and getting it done to allow myself to read. My teenagers want to know where the hell I am going in such a rush..hmmmI am still not so sure. Anyway I end up with a noncommited group who is looking for the social end and I take writing much more seriously. I end up not getting a lot back. I am looking for a group that wants to read and discuss as authors, taking and sharing ideas that further our development as writers.

  23. There’s a difference between reading a book and discussing it. Would I like to sit and READ a book with someone – no, unless it’s with my children, in which case I’m dreading the day that all stops.

    But I have happily DISCUSSED books as part of a book club and even disagreed with others about particular books – I think it would be wierd if everyone in a group shared the same views about every book they read – they aren’t book cults.

    I think it also depends what stage of life you’re at – 15 years ago I was in a book club – these days time spent reading is too precious to let someone else dictate the currency.

  24. This is a true story:

    I was once in a short-lived book club with coworkers. We chose To Kill a Mockingbird because some of the members had never read it. When we began the discussion, a woman said she couldn’t stand the book and didn’t even want to finish it.

    “Why?” I asked.

    “Um, hello???” she said. “Because it’s so RACIST.”

    • I hope you replied

      “Um, hello??? – because you’re so STUPID”

      It’s up there with my favourite books – despite the fact that I had to teach it to reluctant 14 year olds in basic English in rural Newfoundland – let’s just say it didn’t exactly resonate with them . . .

    • True story:

      Many years ago I started a Classics-Only Book Club. Women couldn’t wait to join! Our first book was ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. Half of them didn’t finish it. The other half was too pissed at the first half and didn’t talk. Our next book was ATLAS SHRUGGED. We never met again.

    • I was not invited back to a book group because I didn’t like Tom Perrotta’s Little Children. Everyone was raving about it. When they asked my opinion I said the summary was good at telling us what the author would have liked to say but that the book relied heavily on a one-dimensional, stereotypical view of stay at home mothers and fell short on character development. It earned me a shunning. On second thought, maybe I was wrong.

  25. Betsy, I’d never mistake you for a book club kind of gal. Me, on the other hand… well, let’s just say I don’t get out much, so “book club” is my twice-monthly kick in the butt to get out and do something. Yes, I belong to two book groups, one through my church and another made of up of authors & editors, so we all speak the same language. These are my friends and I love it!

    In both groups, the books are secondary to the socializing – they’re more of an excuse for girls’ night out. I love how books bring people together.

  26. Books, for me, are sometimes a solitary experience. Other times, I can share a book experience with another intelligent human for whom I care deeply. When my kids read some of my favorite books in school, I often read with them in order to discuss the book afterward. Wonderful, satisfying discussions ensue. I have one intimate friend I can do this with as well. But for the most part, give me a paperback copy of a favorite book, draw me a bath, light some candles, and watch me disappear.

  27. Pummeled with a manure filled sock. That is why you’re great.

    I hate book clubs because I want to read what I want to read when I want to read it. I don’t want anyone else telling me what and when.

  28. i haven’t bumbled around a book club in several years so i don’t know how i’d function in the present. i don’t really enjoy reading as i once did–i over analyze, scribble in the margin, and obsess about beginnings and endings. i don’t know i’d have much to add to a book club because they mostly function as social venues. then there’s the competition of ‘the best snacks’ and ‘the best outfit’ etc. etc. i don’t go there.

    as for reading, it’s only occasional that i hit the sweet orgasmic spot with a book and, yes, i need to be alone. i read to masturbate?

  29. I’ve never understood the need for people to sit around in a group and discuss a book they’ve just read…I, like yourself, like reading and enjoying a book alone. I’m glad to see that we seem to be in the majority. 🙂 P.S. What a cute kitty! 🙂

  30. It’s the old party-of-one oxymoron, eh Betsy?

    I know that one too. Who needs a club or a group when all the entertainment happens among the characters free-floating and behaving naughtily in one’s own head?

    But don’t count out manure-filled socks. They do come in handy.

  31. I love to read and have always longed to be in a book club, but have somehow never been invited to be in one (despite living in places like WDC and Paris where they flourish). Now there’s one that I have the opportunity to join, but it’s at work, and sitting up erect around a table doesn’t seem like the right ambiance.

    So somehow the book club has passed me by, although anyone who knows me probably would laugh to hear that, deeming me the perfect candidate.

    Honestly, it was the query letter writer’s mention of her (?) book-club membership that gave me pause . . .

    the Outsider

    p.s. I also think the book club could be torture because I might think I had all these brilliant perceptions of the book and then sit and stare at everyone like an inarticulate idiot, just keeping my little jewels to myself when the time came to discuss. This I can TOTALLY see.

  32. Some people I know like book clubs and I think it’s largely for the socializing. It’s what they like, they get to read some books, so what the hell. There’re very few people I like, so clubs make no sense for me and, as Groucho said, I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.

  33. I really think that it depends on the group. I’ve never joined a book group that meets at a certain time/place unless it was my friends and I who decided to do that. Then it wasn’t an open group–so we knew who we were talking to…therefore no ‘ignoramuses’. (I’m not sure of the plural there…)

    However, I have gained some things through discussion of a book. Insight into a character motivation, or a deeper explanation of events. I don’t think I’ve ever walked away from a book discussion without a deeper appreciation of the book and/or the author.

  34. AGREED. Consider me in the club of hating clubs. A movie alone equals reading alone and pondering alone without input. Delish. Unless I’m running the club, then all bets are off.

  35. I, as a first time author, eagerly accepted all invitations to be the special guest at book clubs o/a the Isle of Long. That’s how I discovered that in this great country of ours, there are book clubs whose members are barely literate even they have college degrees, such as the “educator” who wanted to tell me about the prize she won in high school for her work “on the poetry side of things”, and the “administrator” who wanted advise on how to get her comic book published. And then there was the book club who met in a sweet independent bookstore who all gathered around in their usual chairs and left me standing, nobody offering me a seat, so that I had to wander into the back storeroom and pull out a folding chair and lug it into the meeting and sit there while everyone talked about how everybody has a story and if they weren’t so busy being successful at real jobs they would have the time to write the kind of thing I wrote about, which was so ordinary that obviously anybody can do it. Now I don’t do book clubs unless I can google them, or they guarantee me champagne and pizza and a designated driver.

    Shit. I should have posted this anonymously.

    • Shit is right. All of these things are too painfully recognizable. Ugh.

    • Yes you certainly should have! I have had very parallel experiences with a lot of really mediocre book club discussions, really been there! and that’s why I am posting this anonymously. They’re my bread and butter, but some of these groups can be very depressing indeed.

    • Geez, you’re published. People are buying your books. They want to drink wine and talk about them. Could you be any more ungrateful?

    • thanks for not posting anonymously

      as someone who wants to be in your shoes one day, it’s good to hear these stories and see the other side of this green pasture i have imagined. (my mental note as i type: take note, not all book club discussions are going to be ones you want to sit through even if it’s your book they’re discussing.)

      it’s my understanding that this is a safe place for such talk. i welcome the insight.

  36. If you’re up for a short drive up the coast there’s a pizza and champagne here with your name on it. I drink the good stuff and have a very cool cat. We could discuss from my fresh, new copy of ‘When Wanderers Cease to Roam.’ It’s beautiful.

  37. I have done dozens of book groups and it is depressing as hell. My goal is to get successful enough so that I never have to do one again. I realize it sounds ungrateful; before my book was published I never would have believed I could feel this way. But I do.

  38. I am glad there are book clubs because they make people buy books. I wouldn’t want to join one — I hate how blithely people who don’t write dismiss good writing. It makes me furious — it’s like saying oh that cathedral, there? I don’t get it. I remember hearing that a lot with Marilynne Robinson’s book, Housekeeping. Made me gnash my teeth. But there’s nothing like talking about books with people who get it. Maybe a book club with fellow writers…could work…?

  39. When I read, a fantastic book or watch a compelling movie, I want my friends to experience the same rush I felt.

    Maybe that’s why I paint and write. The visions, memories and stories enrich my life and I want so much for others to be enriched, too.

    Sometimes it clicks with them and I feel like I opened a window and let in a fresh rush of air.

    BTW I’m so glad my old AW friend Jamie Ford made the list.

  40. I’m the same way about liking to do things alone. I long to talk to people about books, movies, etc. but only people who I think have interesting opinions.

    “I would rather be pummeled with a manure filled sock than sit around and drink bad red wine and listen to anyone say that he didn’t like a character because she was unsympathetic.” <—Love this.

  41. I’m in a casual book club made up of friends. We get together once a month or so to talk and eat and maybe talk about the book. Usually, at least one-third, if not half, of the members haven’t read the book.

    I find that I don’t so much love their picks (or most book club picks) and they don’t like mine. I’m in it for the food and the friendship.

    My reading I do on my own, and lots of it – books I pick.

  42. I was in a book club for awhile and quit because no one said anything resembling interesting. And because they always chose shitty books. And speaking of shitty, both A Reliable Wife and The Art of Racing in the Rain fit snugly into that category.

  43. I’ve been in two book clubs- the first one broke up after the first read (and 8 books purchased in advance) and a second that was a better kept secret than Fight Club (first rule, never talk about book club!).

    I’m resigned to the fact that I’m a book club stalker. I love to hear what they’re reading and steal ideas of what to read next. But like you, would rather go it alone.

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