Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When Keeping It Real Goes Right, Book Club Edition

My "Other" book club met last night, that is, the book club I joined about a year ago hoping it would be a welcome contra to the original shitty, ginormous Podunkville book club of 25 people I was invited to join when we first moved here 3 odd years ago. And in many respects it has been.

If you've been reading me awhile, you know the importance of being in a book club in Podunkville - that's how you get the information you need to make it here in business, family and in life. Maybe it's a small town thing.

The truth is, Other Book Club is usually boring. After the last several meetings, I've gone home each time thinking I needed to gently break up with these folks but I couldn't bring myself to do it; because as I've already said I need the info being a member of the group can provide. Our book club seems to be missing a certain spark. Everyone is perfectly "nice." And sometimes "nice" is really grating, and not enough. Part of the problem is none of the members are really outspoken or funny or vibrant. Least of all introverted me.

Last night I decided to take the risk of being really honest about what I truly thought of the book. Holy hell, I hated the book so much so that I finally felt I had to keep it real.

The actual title of the book is irrelevant. Bottom line: it sucked out loud. I'm just grateful it was a library book. It was this ridiculous, poorly-written, fictional tale of a dysfunctional Oregonian family where everyone - children, mothers, the differently-abled - gets violently raped. Literally, I lost count of the number of assaults and rapes detailed in the damn book. And I mean it when I say none of it was at all essential to plot or character development. It was one of those shitty 450-ish-page books that on the surface feels female empowering, but when you dig deeper it is totally antifeminist, complete with those tired old "mother must be punished for having an abortion" tropes, and going back to the absentee dad thereby affirming the power of traditional marriage bullshit. It depicted a developmentally disabled character in a troubling "magical" and "inspirational" light, and with a certain dialogue that just did not ring true. And I kept thinking to myself "I just don't believe any of this could be real." I could go on and on, but I won't. Strangely, it has gotten glowing reviews online except for one negative one out of 87 that reassured me I was not taking crazy pills for hating it.

So I said pretty much all of that out loud at book club. And lo and behold, some of the other members revealed they felt like I did. We had a deep conversation about it. I felt like everyone was heard and respected. I even felt like I understood the rationale of the couple who loved the book - although I won't be jotting down their book recommendations, nor they mine, I came away liking them as people. What a pleasant feeling.

How about your book club experiences? Have you read anything lately in a group or on your own that really spoke to you? ("Wolf Hall" is on my list, thanks @Paola, as well as "Kindred" by Octavia Butler, thanks @Cloud.)


feMOMhist said...

i had to leave book club when it turned out no one drank!

Anandi said...

This is so cool! I wish I had a book club, but right now I need to NOT sign up for new classes/projects/commitments.

I'm surprised you made it through the whole book. It sounds awful.

Got It, Ma! said...

I'm not cut out for book clubs, I think. Either that, or it has to be one where people agree to not be too thin skinned and promise not to take offense if someone criticizes a book they like. I mean, just because I can't stand a book you like doesn't mean I can't stand you. It might, but it's not a foregone conclusion. My sister and I routinely tear books to shreds. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we don't, but we don't take offense. I love talking about books but I've yet to find a book club where people (A) actually read the book and (B) can actually deal with someone speaking critically of a book they like.

Read a great non-fiction book called The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman about the couple who ran the Warsaw Zoo during WWII and managed to hide more than 300 hundred Jews from the Nazis. Very moving.

Also just finished Tigerlily's Orchids by Ruth Rendell. Funny how it has actually grown on me after the fact. I wasn't sure I liked it too much, but I've thought about it a lot since I finished it. It really gets at the whole issue of how little we actually know our neighbors, and how wrong our assumptions about them can be. Really interesting.

Wish you'd share the title of the awful book so I can make sure I never read it!!

paola said...

A couple of great books I've read recently are Atonement by Ian McEwan, and the non-fiction Survival of the Sickest by Dr Sharon Moalem. Both amazing but for different reasons. I also just finished the 19th Wife, by I can't remember who, but would not recommend it , even though it was good in parts.

The new Umberto Eco , the Cemetery of Praque, is brilliant, but has had mixed reviews in the non-Italian press and has even been accused of being anti-semetic. I can understand that happening actually, but from the little I know about Eco, he is the antithesis of anti-semetic. Just because your main protagonist is a racist,, does that make you one? Anyway, see for yourself.

QueSera said...

I was in a book club right before mijo was born that was great. Everyone else was over 70 and the difference in age meant we liked different characters and got different things from the story. It was a real eye opener for me (and for them, they liked that I kept them on their toes). I'd join another one, but I haven't been able to read much fiction lately. Maybe someday.

(I'm enjoying your blog, found you through feMOMhist).

scantee said...

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Might be a bit long for a book club that meets every month but I really enjoyed it.

I've found that my tastes are dissimilar enough from the average book club member that it's really not enjoyable for me. I just end up reading a bunch of books I would never read otherwise and not in a challenging/expanding my thinking sort of way. (A good test for me is to ask if people like The Time Traveller's Wife. I hated that book and if I'm in a group of people who enjoyed it I know it's probably not a good fit for me. Most book club members seem to really like that book.)

mom2boy said...

Maybe when I'm done with school I'll be book club material. I just mentally rebel with any more assigned reading and no book sounds appealing that way. I've also taken to just reading fluff like british detective novels in my free reading time. Hardly book club material.

@paola - pre-baby I read Atonement and The Reader in one weekend. Best back to back weekend read ever. I've read a couple others by Ian McEwan but Atonement is still my favorite.

Cloud said...

I continue to oscillate between loving my book club and thinking that I should give it up because they are a fiction heavy club and I'm more of a non-fiction person right now. I stick with it, though, because it is a great group of people.

You might like the book we're reading now: Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. I'm really liking it, but it is pretty intense, so I wish I could just read it all in one rainy day. Instead, I am reading it in bits an pieces before bed, and it is gnawing at me in between. But I think the characters are really well drawn, so I keep coming back.

Got It, Ma! said...

@mom2boy - don't knock your reading. I happen to think that there are a lot of very good writers who write mysteries. I read lots of Brit mysteries and many are very well written and thought provoking. I think Reginald Hill, Ian Rankin and Ruth Rendell (among others) stand up quite well against their more "literary" contemporaries, and there are some crossovers as well. Benjamin Black is actually the pen name of John Banville of Booker Prized fame. I say read what you enjoy, literary snobbery be damned.

Anandi said...

@scantee, I didn't make it through Time Travelers Wife either. :)

The problem I'd have with a book club is finishing a book if I decided early on I hated it. Life is too short for me to read crappy books, when there are so many good ones to be discovered (and so little time for reading when you have a toddler!).

Anonymous said...

Here's us on bookclubs: http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2010/07/14/conundrum-1/

Bottom line: too much like work!

hush said...

@feMOMhist - Amen, if there's no drinking I don't want to be a member.

@Anandi - I have this weird compulsion where too often I feel I have to finish what I start = not always a good quality. Since it was for book club and I'm fond of the recommender, I pushed through.

@Got It, Ma! - The title of said shitty/awful/no good/very bad book is "Henry's Sisters" by Cathy Lamb.

I'm sorry I also forgot to mention your suggestion of "Room" - luckily it happens to be the Dec pick for Other Book Club. I'm about 10 pages in, and I have a feeling I'm going to like it.

@Paola - "Just because your main protagonist is a racist, does that make you one?" I find that is so context-specific, it is hard to generalize. Actually back to the shitty book club book for a moment, another criticism I had was of the depictions of the matriarch's racism - basically repeating awful stereotypes of African-Americans, in a way that the reader was supposed to find funny, but also judge the matriarch to be cruel and mentally ill. I didn't think it was necessary to the story. Is that the test? Perpetuating negative stereotypes when it is not really all that essential to the storytelling? Hmm..

@Que Sera - Welcome! And thanks for the compliment! I've actually been a bit down on my blogging lately, so I really appreciate your kind words.

@scantee - Glad you stopped by! I love that "TTTW" is your litmus test. I'll never read it because it was the favorite book of an ex-book club friend whose literary opinions I simply couldn't abide. We all need our litmus tests. Mine happens to be "Eat, Pray, (Douche, err I mean) Love" - if you thought it was genius, god help you. ;)

@mom2boy - I totally hear you. When I was a student, there was no longer such a thing as pleasure reading for me. Luckily I've found the mojo comes back once diploma is in hand.

@Cloud - Thanks for the MDR rec; I'm a big fan of hers. I loved "The Sparrow" and its follow up, as well as her recent "Doc", which took me by surprise.

@nicoleandmaggie - True dat. And I hope you're feeling well!

hush said...

I should have included this in my original post - the link to @Got It Ma's review of "Room" by Emma Donoghue, at


I'll try to comment again over on her blog when I finally finish it, sometime this month.