Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Shitty Book Club

I think I need to break up with my Shitty Book Club. When I joined a year and a half ago, I was the 12th member. We met once a month, worked around everyone's schedule, and chose decent books. Back then, only about 6 or 7 people showed up each time, so I felt I got to know everyone pretty quickly. Which was just the perfect thing when I was the new kid in town. But then suddenly, things started to change last summer. New people started showing up each time. Including the one woman in town I am supposed to be especially friendly with (because we're close in age & our hubbies are colleagues), but who I totally cannot stand! By last September, we had 21 freaking members. We started reading these atrocious books that the new members picked. I won't mention them here, but they sucked. What I'm trying to say is I have clearly outgrown this Shitty Book Club, and want to start seeing other people.

However, here in Podunkville, I don't think it can be done without some emotional fallout.

Because, well, people gossip about stupid shit here. As in I went to a brunch today at the home of a woman who is not in Shitty Book Club. One of the other women there, Ms. A, who is also not in Shitty Book Club, mentioned that a mutual friend of ours, who is in Shitty Book Club with me, had told her that she felt Shitty Book Club is now too large (I agree), and that she (Ms. A) had originally hoped to join but now that we've closed it at 21 people she can't. Hmm..... And the hostess, Ms. T, then mentioned that she wanted to join a book club. So I said to Ms. T, "Then perhaps we should start one of our own" - at which point Ms. A quickly made it clear that she did not want to be a part of such a club with Ms. T and me. Weirdness! Ms. A is an odd one, always trying to sell you random things, so no loss really. And I'm not sure Ms. T is what I'm looking for either, though she is totally nice, she wouldn't enjoy reading "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" with me.

I asked DH what he thought I should do. DH said, being a guy, he'd just stop going if he didn't like it. I tried to tell him it's not quite that simple when it comes to female friendships.

What would you do? Ever been in this kind of situation?

EDIT: I found an old NYT article that is a neat summation of typical book club dysfunction: "Fought Over Any Good Books Lately?" by Joanne Kaufman, Dec 5, 2008. Word.

2nd EDIT: I am toying with the idea of emailing the 3 original members and saying "Hi, um, folks are saying this group is too big. I'm partially to blame for that, and it has to be hard on you to organize everyone (as @Jac said). Here are some ideas for splitting the group that would hopefully avoid hurt feelings: 1) By seniority, 2) Alphabetical By Last name, 3) Geographically, or 4) By Random Drawing from a hat. Peace!: And I will give it until the end of May. If nothing changes, I will just Be Perpetually Busy.

3rd EDIT: So I sent an email as described in the 2nd edit. Within minutes I got an impassioned phone call from one of the original members saying "I was so surprised to get your email! We hope you don't want to quit!" and also making odd assertions about not being political or cliquey or even being an organized group. I don't think I made myself very clear. Or perhaps I did and it was too harsh a reality to confront. We meet again on Monday - it may be my last. If it doesn't go well, should I communicate my quitting or just let it be (Be Perpetually Busy)?


Jac said...

I hate female group politics. I like to think it's why I don't join group activities (although, truthfully, its just laziness on my part).

I've never participated in a book club because I don't see the point. I want to read what I want, when I want, and nothing is more painful than reading a book I'm not interested in so that I can converse intelligently about it - it would be like being in 9th grade English all over again.

No answers for you - I can be a chicken shit sometimes, so I would probably make excuses about conflicting schedules until they got the point and stopped inviting me. It must be difficult co-ordinating that many schedules as it is. That doesn't help you in forming a new book club, but maybe you could form a "coffee abd conversation" club and then slowly introduce books into the club activities. And invite only your friends.

Cloud said...

Oooh, I'm so looking forward to reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks with my book club. Which, despite my angsty post last night, is usually pretty good.

But I know how you feel. I was thinking that maybe I need to take a break from my book club for a couple of months, just until my hormones calm down and I can handle the little dramas that seem to be inevitable when you get a group of women together. But I can't figure out how to do it without making more drama. My Hubby totally doesn't get it, either.

hush said...

@Jac - Yes, sometimes "chicken shit" feels fake but actually equals good etiquette, and it can avoid hurt feelings (or contribute to them, depending). I've often found that keeping it real too often goes wrong (I miss you, Dave Chappelle). The "coffee & conversation" club is such a clever idea! That really is the perfect solution; thank you, Jac! I feel I won't be able to poach people from Shitty Book Club though, which is fine.

@Cloud - I am about to go read your "angsty" post. "The little dramas that seem to be inevitable when you get a group of women together" is spot on - so well put! A friend here who is older and wiser than me says that I should recommend the HeLa book before I go because it is my responsibility to challenge podunk thinking.

Cloud said...

Thanks for the nice comments over on my blog!

I fell lucky to have the book club that I have- it really is a good group of women.I think I'd stay on the email list even if I moved away, because they pick some interesting books.

I suspect my ambivalence about taking a break has a lot to do with the fact that I know that the reason for it really is all internal to me, but that it might get perceived as something more, and I genuinely would not want to hurt the feelings of anyone in that group.

Life is so hard in such silly ways sometimes.

caramama said...

Love your 2nd EDIT idea! You should totally email the original 3 members and either say your goodbyes-thanks-for-having-me or offer up how to split the group.

I suggest that you offer spliting the group by types of books/areas of interest. Maybe then you can find the people who would be interested in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks!

I recently joined a book club, and so far it's been a good group. I am so disappointed when I miss one, like I did last month because of exhaustion from lack of sleep (kids!). We read really good, interesting books, too. If there is drama, I am not "in" enough to know about it. And that's just fine with me. :-)

hush said...

@Cloud - You're welcome! I'm learning that feelings often still get hurt despite our best intentions. "Hard in such silly ways" indeed.

@caramama - Totally took your suggestion. I don't think a split is going to happen though. My sense is the head organizer doesn't have the guts, and doesn't want to be responsible for potentially making people unhappy, though the need is acute and enough people see that. Glad you are staying above the fray in your club - hopefully there is no fray there to begin with!

blue said...

I posted last night, but it was eaten.

I think the gist of my post was that these types of things can seem fun and inviting at first but then spin out of control and when we want out, we get paralyzed by the fear of what will happen and whose feelings will get hurt.

I like your honest approach in the email you sent, but also can see how avoiding the issue and just being perpetually busy might be easier. Especially when the reaction is so immediately ninny-ish. The description of the woman's reaction to your email in edit #3 gave me visions of my mother in law running at me with a bandaid. Some people just can't take the polite hint, so your other options are either flat out say you don't want to go anymore or avoid and pretend. BTW, the whole Ms. A thing is so bizarre and silly. Makes me wonder, if she can plainly state that she just doesn't want to, why can't you?

I like your husband's advice best. I realize sometimes these things are more complicated than men understand, but the simplicity of his answer is a good reminder to not get too wrapped up in the "what ifs"

Anyway, good luck to you.

hush said...

@blue - Thank you! I'm so sorry your first post got eaten (eff you, internet!). Yes, "ninny-ish" and "MIL running at me with a bandaid" so perfectly & so hilariously sum it up!

Good question about "if Ms. A can be blunt, why can't I?" The answer is that I could choose to be blunt, but there will be consequences. Such as with Ms. A's brand of bluntness. Coupled with her blatant salesiness (Come to my jewelry party! Join this new gym & mention my name so I can get free personal training!) it is precisely why she was never invited to join Shitty club in the first place; though it was a group that (before overcrowding) would have had anyone with a pulse and a vagina as its member.

Still, her plain talking approach was better than mine. I made the mistake of being fake enough early on, so the ninnies liked a false version of me, and therefore my mismatch with this group is totally on me.

To be blunt, fake, or somewhere in between? How about all of the above?

There is another local woman I know on the "fake" end of the spectrum, who left a different book club last spring, politely saying she was too busy for a book club, etc. Meanwhile, she started attending Shitty Book Club, and of course word of this got back to the book club she had quit. To this day, they keeping talking about how ridiculous she was to feel she had to lie - I sympathize with her.

So given a sample size of 2 here in Podunkville, the fallout from going the fake route seems worse, doesn't it?

The horse has now been beaten to death! Thank you all for indulging me. And for saving my marriage before DH chokes the shit out of me! ;)