Last December, I picked Pussy: A Reclamation by Regena Thomashauser for my book club. As part of our evening we made pussy ornaments for our Christmas trees. I had no idea that a month later my pick would be legitimized, by women wearing pussy hats and marching in solidarity around the world. Was the book a success? Not really. I’m the only one who read it in its entirety but my craft project was a hit. I’ve been in various book clubs for more than a decade and so I’ve developed a thick skin when it comes to my picks.
A couple of years ago we met to discuss Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. It was an easy summer read and we talked about the characters and such. Some of the group didn’t particularly like it, including me. “Who did Ms. Hawkins sleep with to get this published,” I remember asking. On the way home someone asked if any of us thought that the negative comments offended the book picker’s sensibility. The answer is probably yes.
We all seemed to forget that she chose a light book because we did short stories the month before. On a whim while planning that book club, someone said, “Since we are reading short stories, why don’t we all try our hand at writing one?” After a few glasses of wine we all thought this was a good idea. Everyone participated and it was an emotional experience as we all read our stories. An easy read seemed in order for the next month.
Picking a book for your book club can be fraught with peril. Some people don’t want to risk looking foolish so they pick something from the twenty-five hardest books to read list such as Ulysses by James Joyce; others pick something popular but lacking in literary merit like Fifty Shades of Gray. Most pick whatever is hot in other book clubs.
Years ago, when I belonged to my first book club in New Jersey, I chose the book, The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll by Jean Nathan. It is a biography about Dare Wright, the eccentric author of The Lonely Doll books. I chose it because I had recently come across my decrepit copy of Edith and Mr. Bear, and at the same time I read the review of Nathan’s book. It seemed to me that the universe was telling me to choose the book.
So with trepidation, I assigned the biography and bought copies of Dare Wright’s other books to share with everyone. Each of her book covers has a photograph of Edith surrounding by a gingham print, so I made a pink gingham headband for myself. I served cookies and milk. What I remember about the meeting was that some people were not happy with my choice and I felt kind of dumb.
I have since belonged to four more book clubs in two more states. In Tennessee, it was a very loosey-goosey club. Every time we met at the chosen restaurant there was a new set of faces. As a group we weren’t able to develop any chemistry or rapport, an important factor in the workings of a group. It was here that I read my first James Patterson book. I went to the library to see if they had it and the librarian replied, “Patterson publishes a book every Tuesday, which one are you looking for?” It was through this experience that I realized that not everyone was an English major in college.
Upon moving to Illinois, I was invited to be in a lunchtime group. When it was my turn to pick, I chose the riskiest book ever in my book clubbing life. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. I barely knew these woman when I suggested Hos, Hookers, Call Girls, And Rent Boys: Professionals Writing on Life, Love, Money, and Sex, edited by David Henry Sterry and R. J. Martin Jr. I was a little uncomfortable with my choice and tried to legitimize it by showing everyone its New York Times book review. Two members in the club were morally offended and refused to read it or come to the meeting (ever again, I think)! It was a fascinating read and we had a lively discussion about a billion-dollar industry none of us knew anything about.
In my quest to find a book club as perfect as my first, I kept joining them until I belonged to three at once. One was filled with lawyers who liked to stay on point, so that was the first to go by the wayside. In the other, I suggested the book Tiger Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso. One of the members contacted me and told me she wouldn’t read it because it was too disturbing. I was so rattled that I ended up scrapping it and choosing a cumbersome book about puppetry. I wished that I stuck to my first choice.
I finally committed to the first club. When it was my turn to host again I chose the chick-lit book, Definitely Not Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos. She lives locally and I thought it would be interesting to have her come to our meeting and talk about getting published. It was a fun read and Karen was very generous with sharing information about her journey to getting published. During the meeting, while we were getting drinks, one of the members pulled me aside and asked, “Who picked this book? It is not book club material.” Yikes! I sheepishly replied, “I did.”
I’ve always felt that belonging to a book club is an opportunity for us to read something we wouldn’t normally, open our minds a bit and socialize with others. If you don’t like the book, don’t shoot the book-picker; shoot the author, the editors or the publisher. If you are the one who picked a bad book, don’t worry about it. Move on and know that you can wow everyone with your next choice. Just Google “the top ten most difficult books, pick one of them, and everyone will think you’re damn smart.