Monday, November 17, 2014

I Joined A Book Club

By some estimates, five million Americans gather every few weeks in someone’s living room or in a bar or bookstore or local library to discuss the finer points of “Middlemarch” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” (A perfect number is hard to pin down because some people belong to two or three clubs, and of course, there’s no central registry of members.) 
James Atlas, New York Times Sunday Review

     Okay, so I was rather late coming to the party.  I mean, just about everyone I know (make that almost every woman I know) has been or is currently a member of a book club.
     It took until two weeks ago before I joined up.
     So, what's so odd about that?
     Well, I'm in my late 60s, earned a master's degree in American literature, taught high school English for five years (And, yes, my classes read a lot of books!), authored several books of my own, and recently reviewed books for two major publications.
     Still, there was something about book clubs that just didn't call my name.  Maybe I pictured a gaggle of women getting together and gabbing about everything except books.
     Maybe joining a club harked back to high school when I pledged a sorority and got kicked out of the National Honor Society as a result.  Something about being a member of a group not open to anyone who wanted to join.
     Or maybe I didn't think switching from teacher to student would live up to my high expectations.
     Now, I'm a firm believer in fortuitous events. Things happen for a reason.  An example: I'd been curious about meditation but never took it up until my sister suggested it might be a good way to center myself after my first seizure.  She was right.
     Another example:  I wrote a personal piece about how my dance teacher had helped me "find" my spine.  The day the piece was published in the Chicago Reader, I fortuitously met the features editor for the Chicago Sun-Times which, at the time, gave the then coveted Chicago Tribune a run for its money.  The editor had read my article that very day and suggested I query her with other ideas.  I went on to write several feature pieces for the Sun-Times.
     That was fortuitous.
     When a woman in my yoga class mentioned that she wouldn't be in class the following Tuesday because her book club met the first Tuesday of every month, I was intrigued.
     "Where does the club meet?"
     "We switch houses every month."
     I'd always loved seeing the insides of other houses.
     "Who chooses the book?"
     "We have a professional leader who gives us a potential list, and the group makes the final decision."
      A professional leader?  Hmmm . . .
     "And what do you pay this leader?"
     "I'll have to check.  It's not cheap but it's worth it."
     So without further adieu, I went to my first book club as a visitor and then decided to sign on the dotted line.
     A month later, I was ready to go.  I'd read Alice Monroe's Dear Life: Stories and labored through the seemingly unending process of taking notes on an iPad.
      Judy, the group leader, held up the book before beginning the discussion.  The cover didn't look familiar.
      "So," she said.  "What are your first impressions of Alice McDermott's writing?"
     Alice McDermott?  She must have been distracted.
     "As you know, Someone won the National Book Award.
     I felt sick to my stomach.  "Alice McDermott?" I said.
     She pointed to the book cover.
     "Oh, my God.  I read the wrong book!"
     So, I sat like one of the many guys in my high school class who never did their homework and understood for the first time how lousy it feels to sit in on a discussion when you have absolutely nothing to say.



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