I’m Not Just A Member, I’m Also The President

So here’s the thing, kids.

I have, over the years of scratching a path into the dirt on this blue rock,  organized a series of book clubs. They have all come to untimely ends, and I’d like to say it was because schedules got in the way, or the selections were terrible, or I have a bad habit of  pontificating at length about some bit of literary minutia fascinating to me but of incomprehensible and tedious mystery to the rest of the group, but that’s just not the case (except maybe that last one, but come on, it’s ME, people).

No, the reason my book clubs fail is this: I put the cart before the horse.

When I start a book club, I have this vision that we’ll be tucked into cozy chairs somewhere, sipping port, eating fine cheese and water crackers while we discuss the latest selection.  I imagine a roaring fire (or a summer breeze, as the season merits), witty repartee, insightful commentary. I picture a group of like-minded intellectuals mining a book for its treasures, our picks biting deep, unearthing shining bits of truth and wisdom and hilarity.

Now, I know that this sort of thing can smack of elitism, that it can be intimidating or off-putting simply because intellectually rigorous pastimes have become work rather than fun in this country. I know that it can, in the wrong hands, become The Finer Things Club.

And you know what? Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

I LIKE reading. No, I LOVE it.  I love every part of the process – the smell of the paper, the warm solidity of the book in the hand, the ability of a truly well-written story to swallow me up like Jonah’s great fish and spit me out onto the shores of reality hours later, weary but wiser for the experience.

But that’s only half the reading experience – I also enjoy the vivisection of the patient. I like to peep behind the curtain and look at the gears and cogs that make everything dance so prettily. Are the characters fresh, or archetypes we’ve seen before? If they are old friends in new clothing, how has the author made them important to us in this context? What about plot? Dialogue choice? Content, both obscure and familiar? What about thematic and allegorical subtext? Where is the book within the cultural framework on which it rests?

These are the questions that consume me when I read.

Ah, but my members are a different story.

My most recent book club, The Super Fun Book Club of Fun-ness™, fell victim to what I call “Life Intrudes” syndrome. At the time of its death earlier this year, the club was four years old. It consisted entirely of friends from work, and the idea was that we’d meet every six weeks for lunch to discuss a book selected by vote.

By the end, it had devolved considerably. Hardly anyone read the book, and I had to be “Mean Mommy,” breaking up chatter about work, the latest peccadilloes of the Hollywood elite, and television in order to bring the group back to the topic at hand.

I let the club die a silent death this year. Nobody protested. In fact, only one member even asked what had happened to it (my friend Mona, who always read the book and contributed regularly to discussion).

To be fair, my friends are busy women. They have families to raise, other interests to pursue, and limited time in which to accomplish their goals – in short, women who are too busy for a book club, or at least too busy to make the time for one. To measure their wheat by my bushel is not only arrogant but wrong-headed, and so releasing them from the guilt of a “fun” club that they didn’t have room for was my only option.

Which brings us to today. I’ve decided that, rather than gather up my friends and build a book club around them, I am building my club and saying “This is what is expected when you join this club.”  I am building a cart and saying, “all right, which of you lot wants to schlep this thing round the track with me?”

To wit:

I’ve christened this new club “Bibliovore’s Delight.” We meet every six weeks on Saturdays. Membership is open to anyone who agrees to follow the rules of the club, which are as follows:

1) You read the book. The whole thing. Yes, even if Survivor is on and Leroy is trying to steal immunity from Corncob by forming an alliance with Skeeter. If you haven’t read it, don’t bother to show up – or, if you do show up, prepare to have the ending spoiled for you.

2) You digest the book and produce a few germane comments for sharing. You needn’t bring a thesis (even I don’t want to hear “Harry Potter As Christ: Redemption for Muggle and Mage“), but take note of things that caught your fancy (what did you like? What did you hate? Who was your favorite character, and why?).

3) You have an opinion and don’t mind sharing it (or defending it). Literary endeavor is not for sissies. You want to go toe-to-toe over Heathcliff’s sexuality? Want to engage on the morality of George’s choice to kill Lenny? Let the discussion begin! Naturally, civility will be our watchword, but spirited discussion is most welcome indeed.

[By the by, I was referring to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, but if you’ve got some sort of dirt on the ersatz Garfield of the same name, we can discuss that, too.]

4) You believe in active, on-topic participation. There will most likely be theme parties for the books we read. I might have a screening of the movie version for comparative discussion. Members may have supplemental material they’d like us to read and then add to the discussion. The point is, this is a club about thoroughly digesting and enjoying books. Wallflowers can stay home.

As this is a club that is democratic in operation but autocratic in administration, I will choose our first book. We’ll be reading Dashiell Hammett’s excellent final novel, The Thin Man (available here, among other places).

The first meeting will be Saturday, August 15th, 2009 (location TBD) at 6 PM.

Those of you in the Dayton area are welcome to join me physically for the meeting (we’ll most likely have dinner and drinks before/during/after as necessary).

For those of you too distant to join us, I’m on MSN (Claire.M.Jackson@hotmail.com) and will be happy to friend you!

We’ll be doing a live video chat of the meeting via Windows Live Messenger from my laptop, so our more remote members can chime in!

I’ve set up a club site over at Book Movement...e-mail me for details!

If you’re a serious reader who’s looking for serious book-related fun, I hope you’ll join me as I launch Bibliovore’s Delight.

Happy Reading!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: