I had already been up for a half an hour by the time Ken came down for breakfast one day last week.
“What are you doing up so early?” he asked, knowing me well enough to understand that I don’t get out of bed voluntarily before 8 am.
“Making pinwheels for book club,” I replied as I slathered hummus and cream cheese on bright green spinach tortillas that I planned to wrap around a medley of veggies and slice into finger-food-sized bites of Ladies’ Lunch delectability.
“YOU’RE going to a book club?” he nearly snorted orange juice through his nose.
“You’re laughing! Why are you laughing? I like books! I read!” My reply was indignant.
“Yeah, a book a year, maybe.” My husband refers to the books he gives me at Christmas as “good investment gifts” because it truly can take me up to a year and a half to finish off an average-size novel.
“Yeah, so, I’m a slow reader. But they’re doing a book I’ve already read!”
“Ah, well, that’s lucky! “
“I know! Right?”
“Besides, I wasn’t making fun of you. I was just thinking your past history with book clubs hasn’t exactly been happy. I’m just surprised you’re joining a new one.”
He was right. I swore off book clubs some years ago. I have had “incidents” with book clubs.
The first occurred a month or so after we moved to Buffalo in 1999. An elderly lady invited me to join her book group so that she might introduce me to the “fine ladies of our community.” A welcome-wagonish sort of gesture. I scanned the room when I walked into the church hall where the fine ladies were meeting. About 100 of them. Not one of them under 80 years of age. I felt like somebody’s granddaughter visiting from out of town. Or like a lamb in a pack of wolves that hadn’t eaten in a while. It was evidently one of those longstanding, well-established book groups that had been meeting since the Eisenhower administration – or maybe earlier. And they followed a longstanding, well-established protocol. First, a nice hot lunch: meat loaf, mashed potatoes and canned corn, followed by a caramel pudding with a dot of whipped cream on top. Nothing that required teeth. Next, a guest speaker. She was to present a talk on the reading assignment: “Memoirs of a Geisha.” Show of hands: “Who’s read the book?” No one. Not even one. Regardless, she proceeded to deliver her address. I scanned the room again. More than three-quarters of the membership were asleep. Needless to say there was no discussion. Moral of the story: don’t give a hot meal to a bunch of old ladies until AFTER the guest speaker.
My second book group was a younger crowd. A woman I met at an aerobics class at the Y invited me to the home of a friend. I read the book in time for the meeting. Fortunately for me, it was short; unfortunately it was the vilest book I have ever read. I don’t remember the title or the author – I’ve blocked them from my memory. And I won’t describe the plot to you – it was that vile. A group of 12 – 14 women showed up to discuss this evil tome. One rather thin, pinched-looking woman dominated the room. She sat cross-legged in a Wing-back chair. All eyes turned toward her as if she were a sinister version of Yoda preparing to dispense twisted wisdom.They waited, breathlessly, for her to speak. The silence was broken by a voice from across the room that proclaimed it a very nasty book. We gasped and turned toward her. Yoda’s eyes flashed with fury. “A stupid woman, you are!” she snapped. The tone of the discussion ensued pretty much along the lines of, “Am not!” “Are too!” No one else uttered a sound. We just looked from one to the other like watching a tennis match. Yoda finally declared victory by slamming down her book club credentials. “I read 12 books a week and I’m in six book groups and we all liked it! So there. Nyaaa!” I left, thanking the hostess, “Um…yeah, that was…um…nice. Next time? Oh, yeah. Sure.”
By the time a new friend invited me to a third group, I was feeling just a wee bit apprehensive. But this invitation came with assurance that the group was way more concerned with baking than reading. I enjoyed the cakes and pies and cookies. I was sad when this friend moved away a few months later. Ten pounds heavier, I quit the group.
My foray into literary congregations last week was pleasant enough. We talked about the book a bit. Mostly we talked about other things. There were salads. Someone brought brownies. Everyone said they liked my pinwheels. A glass or two of wine didn’t hurt. I wondered if other people’s book clubs were this nice.
And so, I ask, who’s bringing brownies next time? Er, I mean what are we reading next?