December 8, 2008

"Who knew a book group could be such a soap opera?"

"You’d think it would just be about the book. But wherever I go, people want to talk to me about the infighting and the politics."

Who knew? Everyone should have known.


TosaGuy said...

“I was hoping to network with all these women in upper-level jobs at I.U., then I found they were in the book group,” she said. “I thought, ‘Great! They’ll see how wonderful I am, and we’ll have these great conversations about books.’ ”

Much human drama and comedy comes from the fallout revolving around hidden agendas and motives. If she simply wanted to talk about books then she would not have had a problem, but she wanted to network first, be seen as wonderful second and read books third....if the first two were going well, then she would not have cared about what was going on with number three.

Anonymous said...

Every new book club should start with Sartre's "No Exit".

Ron said...

Or perhaps every book club should start by singing verses from The Iliad, around the campfire, as this is how book clubs started with them there Ancient Greeks...

Ron said...

Maybe we could do this here on Althouse. Ann picks a book, we read it, and live-blog our agreed-upon discussion...

Ron said...

and, hell, we could still get drunk and live blog our bitching about our spouses!

Barry said...

I think this about sums it up: “It was bad enough that they wanted to read ‘Da Vinci Code’ in the first place,” Ms. Bowie said, “but then they wanted to talk about it.”

Not that Da Vinci Code is great literature, but some find it an entertaining read. Shouldn't one possible object of joining a book club be the introduction to types of literature you wouldn't normally read? And shouldn't another be conversing with others about what you've read?

I couldn't bring myself to read the rest of this, though skimming I see it might be last we hear from the snobbish Ms. Bowie. I hope this wasn't a case of the NYT journalist writing in their own prejudice. Bowie comes off as rather obnoxious.

David said...

Hate to say it, but this is a female thing.

Back in the day it was tennis leagues and tennis ladders. They guys would go out, try to beat each other's brains out, and then go have a beer and laugh. The women would go out, try to beat each other's brains out, and then go plot and scheme and whine about the rankings and the team selections and the favoritism, blah, blah, blah.

I have no theory as to why this is true. But it is.

Jeremy said...

Barry, yes and yes.

My book club just finished Robert Heinlin's Stranger in a Strange Land. Everyone hated it including the guy who suggested it, but it was one of the best discussions we've had.

kjbe said...

Baloney, David. Didn't you ever see Caddyshack? There was plenty of whining and jealousy.

Hearing from friends, having never belonged to a book club, this behavior is not that unusual. The clubs are part about the book, part socializing. What I learned is, apparently, there are professional book club facilitators. I think I'd prefer a group-conscious type club, myself.

Trooper York said...

What a bunch of pretentious twats.

Books from the Oprah book club are too low brow for them.

I got news for you sister. Obama won. What Oprah says goes and don’t you forget it.

Skyler said...

And the same people who are shocked that it's hard to keep people happy in small groups of book clubs somehow think it's no problem at all to have one idea inflicted on everyone on larger political issues that have real effect on peoples' daily lives.

Sometimes I'm simply amazed that such articles of empty thoughts can be written. "Oh, how elite and cultured we are to have book clubs. But why oh why are we burdened with social dynamics learned by everyone else in the fourth grade?"

Freeman Hunt said...

The author describes exactly why I won't join a book club. I would hate feeling obligated to read books chosen by other people, books which I would almost certainly not enjoy. I could never even get past that aspect far enough to evaluate the drama issue.

I can, however, see how an online book club could work. As someone in the article noted, discussion groups made up of strangers probably work better. Also, there are book clubs based around certain things, like A Well-Educated Mind, where a book list is already pretty much preset. Then you don't have people arguing over the selections, and you could seek out a club with a selection list to your liking.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Selecting Austen won't help. Don't believe me? Try reading "The Jane Austen Book Club" in your book club.

Fred Drinkwater said...

Henry Buck has it exactly right. Just make sure that the men don't remove their dress coats, and that no-one brings a packet mirror.

Fred Drinkwater said...


I've got TCP/IP on the brain this morning.

George M. Spencer said...

"What were "book groups"?

That's a question from a trivia game in the year 2108.

Like asking "What was a shucking bee?"

I recently asked a country guy "How many turkeys do you kill at a 'turkey shoot?'

His answer: "None. They're frozen."

Books are over, done, finished.

Freeman Hunt said...

I also reject the idea that balking at certain selections makes one narrow. I think it's good to be a discriminating reader.

Chip Ahoy said...

The part that killed me was it became too much trouble keeping clotted cream and making smoked salmon sandwiches with watercress. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. That's a good one!

Smoked salmon, or just regular lox is fantastic on sourdough. It's made even better with diced onion and capers mixed into cream cheese (for ease of application) and finely diced tomato. But what sends it over the top is sliced avocado lightly sprinkled with cumin. Now, is that so hard? Perhaps it is for someone with their doctorate in literature.

For crying out loud, nobody expects you to catch, scale, clean, filet, smoke, and slice the salmon. Nor do you have to make your own bread, although that's simple enough too. The whole thing is easy as making a bologna sandwich.

Breadless smoked salmon salad.

MadisonMan said...

Why didn't they love that boomeranger who went from the coast back to Indiana?! She was fabulous and oh so er-you-dite.

Let us all bemoan the lack of true culture in southern Indiana. It is to weep (please clutch your pearls as you read this).

Anonymous said...

"I also reject the idea that balking at certain selections makes one narrow. I think it's good to be a discriminating reader."

I could agree with that. But joining a book club, and then "balking at certain selections" (read that: almost all the selections) makes one a useless, irritating twit.

Freeman Hunt said...

But joining a book club, and then "balking at certain selections"

I can agree with that. Don't be naive, look at what's on the bestseller list, don't join.

kjbe said...

I also reject the idea that balking at certain selections makes one narrow. I think it's good to be a discriminating reader.

Exactly. It's about knowing what you like or don't like. But, too, to experiment and be open to something new, is no crime. I mean, you're reading - who should care what or why.

A common attraction, such as a prescribed list or topic area will make a group stronger by bringing in more interested and committed members willing to put up with individual eccentricities.

Joe said...

Isn't this one of those "no shit Sherlock" articles?

Tibore said...

Is it just me, or does the concept of a "book group" sound forced? I enjoy discussing books with other individuals who read the same one, or others in the same genre, but I can't think of anything more contrived than being in a group like that. I wouldn't want to be required to read a book I would not have otherwise chosen on my own.

Much of the drama behind being in a book group seems to stem from the fact that it's supposed to have an informal heirarchy, but yet have a formal purpose. That seems to clash. If I want to discuss books, movies, or other forms of entertainment, I'll continue to do it the way I've always done it: With friends, over drinks or dinner, or during some other social event that doesn't have a set agenda. That seems to work much better than having a formal meeting group.

Trooper York said...

People join book groups because they want to get credit for reading. I read 2 to 3 books a week and don't need to talk to anybody about it. Get over yourself. If you want to talk about anything you can make it intelligent and interesting. The quality of the conversation is more important than the content of the books. You can have an interesting and insightful conversation about everything from Zane Grey to When Stella Got her Twat Back. If you want to specialize in boring Russian authors of the 1800's well knock yourself out. But not everyone is so pretentious. Or boring.

Ignacio said...

Some Russian authors of the 19th century are boring. Some are not.

PatCA said...

"Don't believe me? Try reading "The Jane Austen Book Club" in your book club."

Fred, I hate that book with a passion. I couldn't finish it.

Our book club is organized from our work so we don't know each other well enough to really get nasty. If we don't like a book, we don't come that month. But, yeah, it reminds me of the tennis club somewhat. Nobody's cried yet, though.

paul a'barge said...

Laura: Baloney, David. Didn't you ever see Caddyshack? There was plenty of whining and jealousy.

Um. Laura?

Caddyshack is a movie.

These book clubs are filled with real women.

I don't think the comparison is valid.

Darcy said...

I'd love to be in a book club! When I finish a good book, I'm usually dying to talk to others who have recently read it.

I also agree with Freeman...I don't think it's narrow minded to be looking for a group that mostly reads what interests you. Probably a good idea to ask what books the group has read to get a good idea.

And dissin' tennis ladies, are we?? Hmmpf. :)

Wince said...

"Maybe I didn't understand the book?"

Made me think of Kate Winslet joining the women's Book Group in Little Children, where she can let her feelings out about her husband.

On the whole a very depressing movie, however.

DaLawGiver said...

My book club just finished Robert Heinlin's Stranger in a Strange Land. Everyone hated it including the guy who suggested it, but it was one of the best discussions we've had.

Whaaaat??? That was the best book I read in the sixth grade! Sex, superpowers, more sex, aliens, sex, alien sex, babes, more sex, rich lawyers, group sex, religion, sex protected by lawyers, rocketships, and sex. It had everything!

Oh, and the Giants will fall to the Cowboys on Sunday. The Cowboys suck, but the Giants suck worse.

MayBee said...

Why didn't they love that boomeranger who went from the coast back to Indiana?! She was fabulous and oh so er-you-dite.

She joined to show them how wonderful she is!

I know this woman. She tried to join my book group, too. She may have tried to join yours.
At my book group, she kept talking about how she went to boarding school!, how her daughter may not get into the college of her choice because she was in danger of getting her first B in Senior Honors Math class, and finally about how even though she was married in the mid-80's she did not have a bad hairstyle in her wedding photos.

David said...


If you learn about life from movies . . . well, if I have to explain that to you, it's probably a lost cause.

Suggest you view the original Bambi vs. Godzilla, by Marv Newland.

KCFleming said...

I have a book club with a membership of one: me. I read and drink some wine. Sometimes it's just the wine and I'm too damned lazy to read. I often disagree with my selection and give me a wedgie and hide my Amazon credit card. Sometimes I talk about my marriage to myself, but I just roll my eyes and check my watch, but feel hurt to be ignored again. I never listen.

I once quit that book club and started another, but I had joined that one already too. Effing stalker.

Trooper York said...

Lawgiver has obviously been taking the date rape drug that Tony Romo gave Jessica so he could bang her.
The Cowboys will be destroyed by THE WORLD CHAMPION NEW YORK GIANTS in a defeat that will go down in the history books as a epic beat down like the time John Stodder tried to hit on Dana Delaney.

I am not worried that we lost to AJ Lynch's Eagles because I did not think we would go undefeated for the rest of the season. It was a wake call and we will proceed to trounce those puny Cowboys.

Did I tell you lately that the Giants are going to win the Super Bowl?

KCFleming said...

Bookcase Oddity
by Jocelyn Bowie

Book control to Jocelyn
Book control to Jocelyn
Take your watercress and and put your salmon on

Ground control to Jocelyn
Commencing reading, network on
Check the due date and may God's love be with you

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five,
Four, three, two, one, no chitchat

This is Book control to Jocelyn
Youve really made the grade
And the ladies want to know whose scones you buy
Now its time to leave the bookclub if you dare

This is Jocelyn to Book control
I'm reading The Da Vinci Code
And I'm gagging in a most peculiar way
And the tea looks very different today

Here am I reading 'bout jane Austen
Far above the morons
The Devil Wears Prada's overdue
And theres nothing I can do.

Darcy said...

That's a very exclusive club you've got there, Pogo.

William said...

I read about one book a week. For reasons of schadenfreude I like to read histories and biographies. I can see the point to discussion groups. A good book engenders ideas that beg to be shared, but sadly most of the books I read are of no interest to anyone else in the world.....I just read a history of Prussia. It seems to me that Hindenberg is the eminence grise of all the great calamities of the 20th Century. He subsidized the Bolsheviks and invited Hitler into the German chancellorship. He pressured the Kaiser into resigning after pressuring him into adapting tactics that ensured Germany's defeat in WWI. There is no man in the 20th Century who screwed up so many things so badly. When he died, he was given a reverent funeral by Hitler and was mourned by all his countrymen. Then, before he could be raised to infamy, he vanished into oblivion. Is there an opposite word to schadenfreude--where scumbags get to prosper and live out their lives in glory? ...I tried to tell a friend about these astounding discoveries I had made about Hindenberg, but his eyes glazed over before I got to the second sentence.... Thru the miracle of the internet age, I finally get a chance to dump on Hindenberg. I am sure that someone has read this entire post.

TitusTisTheSeason said...

Book Groups are gay.

There are a few in my neighborhood. One allows you do bring your dogs.

Does anything sound more horrible?

Attending a book club at the some pretentious queens home with her maltese?

Trooper York said...

Well if I was in your book club William all I could say would be
"oooohh the humanity....."

ricpic said...

Giants and Jets limping to the finish line. Doesn't bode well for either team.

Oprah sits on all our heads now.

Does anyone with half a brain seriously think of themselves as wonderful?

Books. I'm supposed to say something about books. The main thing is to end the evening in bed with a book, any book. Helps you drift off into dreamland.

There are several authors that I am eternally grateful to and at the same time they are unreadable to me at my present age. In no particular order: Thomas Wolfe; Saroyan; Kerouac; Willa Cather. I could go on but the main point is that in one way or another they are all unreadable, almost unbearable to read now. But they were immense proofs that I was not alone in my youth. They gave credence to the inner life.

Rose said...


There're a couple of book groups around here where Mom's bring kids (the kids also read the books) - I gather they go pretty well, because the emphasis is on the books, and the importance of books, sharing and communication.

But, I could be mistaken, It could be a real soap opera. :)

ricpic said...

Where's a Prussian supposed to go nowadays to get some respect?

Darcy said...

Aww, ricpic.

Btw, how did your Thanksgiving dinner turn out?? You left us hanging.

ricpic said...

Good. It went good. Thank God for Svenska vodka.

Trooper York said...

"Where's a Prussian supposed to go nowadays to get some respect?"

Dana Delaney's house. She likes to dress up like the burgermeister with the Monocle in Frankenstein and then...well you can just imagine.

Freeman Hunt said...

Didn't Oprah's book club read "The Secret?" I cannot imagine being asked to read that. Had I made the mistake of joining one of those clubs, that would have made me drop out immediately.

Freeman Hunt said...

They did read it!

Quantum Physics has discovered that all life is vibration and in that world of vibration like attracts like. On Oprah, The Secret tells how we attract everything based on how we are feeling and thinking.

Poor quantum physics. So abused. I weep that this book sold so many copies.

DaLawGiver said...

I do my best reading on the crapper. Consumer's Report, Biography of Sam Houston, History of Marine Corp's Aviation In World War II, Jane's Weapon Systems 1978, The People's Almanac, The Life of Pi. It's all good.

Dana Delaney was hot in China Beach.

I feel a vibration, I have to go, my wife wants me.

blake said...

Does anyone with half a brain seriously think of themselves as wonderful?

Just Bissage.

Just Bissage.

blake said...

Yes, refusing to read certain books makes you narrow, for some definition of narrow. Some narrowness is necessary to get anything done.

The thing is, even if you're a 2-3 book a week guy, like Trooper, there's no guarantee anyone else has read your same book (like William).

If you join a generic book club, you should expect to read generic books. NYT Bestseller, Oprah recommends, maybe some Jane Austen or the Brontes if the group is bold.

But I can see someone wanting to discuss particular topics and joining a book club centered around that. William could have a Prussian history book where everyone debated the degree to which Hindenberg sucked.

HP Lovecraft wrote an essay on horror and the supernatural in fiction where he mentioned 50-100 works ranging back to the time of the Greeks. I've read some of them, but it'd be fun to read them all with a group of like-minded freaks.

Whether '30s era pulp, gothic novels, 19th century sci-fi, 18th century metaphysics, or even late '80s romance novels, I could see a book club being more fun than just reading on your own. You could even slice horizontally: Have a book club centered around 19th century England where one person focused on Dickens, and another looked at the political history, and another looked at the economy and labor issues.

It's not necessarily much different from what's done at the Althouse: Common news stories spur conversation.

TitusTisTheSeason said...

I read about a book a week and the last thing I want to do is sit in a group and talk about it.

How did it make you feel?

What about when so and so did this to so and so?

This part was so powerful.

It all sounds so gross.

But then again sitting down and watching an entire episode of Oprah sounds more painful.

I love the Saturday Night Live skit when they do the Oprah spoof and she is giving out her "favorite things". In the spoof the women's heads are blowing up and they are throwing chairs and pulling each others hair. By the way Oprah's favorite things are really gross too. So was Oprah's birthday party where John Travolta attended and they had dinner in the garden with special fabulous plates and napkins and spoons and wine glasses. Gag.

TitusTisTheSeason said...

But maybe with Troop we can have our own special book club. That might be nice.

Donna B. said...

I would join a Cliff Notes book club.

PatCA said...

Go sign up for a master's degree in history. They would love you!

Zach said...

“It was very high-minded,” said Ms. Farewell, a travel writer in Westport, Conn. Members took turns selecting books, “and you felt that your choice was a measure of how intelligent and sophisticated and worldly you were,” she said.


Why can't people ever compete with one another by showing impeccable taste and picking out books that other people will enjoy?

Anonymous said...

Pogo: Your best comments EVAR!

(I worked late, so I'm eating alone at the dining room table and nearly choked on a piece of chicken laughing so hard)

Zach said...

Then, after a presidential debate, an argument about the candidates ensued, “so it was decided that we couldn’t read any political books or have any political discussions anymore,” recalled Ms. Peck, who had just suggested the group read a book about the Bush White House.

“It was nixed, and I just felt that was unnatural,” given that the group had successfully discussed other sensitive issues, she said. She and her husband then joined a coed group, which has worked out well. “And we read a heck of a lot of political books,” she said triumphantly.

This is not a cause for triumph. Political books are junk food. They have no depth and no perspective. Bush isn't even out of the White House yet!

If you want to tackle politics, why not read the Lyndon Johnson biography (Master of the Senate) that's out right now? If all you want to read a book for is the masturbatory joy of reinforcing your prejudices, you won't get much out of reading.

somefeller said...

Someone who joined a book club to "network with all these women in upper-level jobs at I.U." shouldn't complain about the agendas of others in the club.

Meade said...

Donna B. said...
"I would join a Cliff Notes book club."

Ha! Me too. Or even better yet - a Classics comic book club.

Shanna said...

Someone who joined a book club to "network with all these women in upper-level jobs at I.U." shouldn't complain about the agendas of others in the club.

Indeed. She’s an idiot for forgetting her primary mission.

I think it might be more fun to discuss bad books, like the Secret. It would have to be the right group of people though.

William said...

Here, in the oblivion of this dead thread, it seems appropriate to post my last word on Hindenberg. Trooper York shows that Hindenberg will be remembered as a big, disastrous fireball. How fitting.... The subtext of the Titanic is not that it was a big ship that sunk but rather that it was progress, even the very idea of progress that sank with the Titanic. The Titanic happened just two years before WWI, the disaster that sank Western Civ....Just so with the Hindenberg. The Hindenberg left no interesting ruins on the bottom of the sea. It was a huge fireball, as big as Dresden, that left just a few pieces of charred, twisted metal. That was all that remained of the pomp and pretension of the blimp called Hindenberg....I suppose that was true of the man called Hindenberg. He caused such total destruction to the Prussian state that nothing remained, not even the name of the man who set in motion the forces that destroyed it.

Christy said...

I enjoy book clubs. Discussions almost always enrich my reading.

One of my bookclubs is undoubtedly far too social for most. We encourage everyone to show up, whether they read the book or not, and in the summer we move poolside for our meetings. We've read chick lit, novels cited by the Nobel committee in their awards, and best sellers. Mostly it is an excuse to get together with other women who like to read.

My other group grew out of a marathon training support group. After the marathon, they all wanted an excuse to continue to get together. That is when I was invited to join. Oddly enough, they are very serious about reading good books. Because we all take a turn selecting the next book (less than half are novels) we make a good faith effort to read what others select. We also get honest feedback. I caught flak for picking a graphic novel one month another was beat up unmercifully for selecting the correspondence of a nasty 17th century nun. I've read very good books I wouldn't otherwise have touched.

Darcy said...

Interesting, Christy. One of the most touching and interesting books I've ever read was a graphic novel called "Maus".

Darcy said...

And William, I thought your posts were very interesting!

I'm more into history and biographies now than I ever thought I'd be, although I prefer historical fiction. I know...sort of candy assed approach, but I've read some very entertaining books while learning the history and geography I snoozed through in school.

blake said...

Maus is a classic!

History is murdered in school. (And it's a pretty fragile thing to begin with.)

Darcy said...

You know the thing about Maus blake, is that I loved this book...but every time I try to recommend it, it is so hard to explain, and they look at me sort of funny. The graphic novel part, and the idea that all of the different nationalities/ethnic groups are drawn as animals is really hard for people to take seriously, I guess. I thought that aspect of the novel was brilliant.

Darcy said...

Well, and it is not really a novel, is it? It's a true story.

blake said...

Well, yes, and the whole premise of using animals for the Holocaust--it's really quite unique and effective.

Darcy said...

Totally effective, blake. I need to read it again. I loaned it out to someone (who loved it as well), and haven't gotten it back yet.

For something totally different, have you read The Club of Angels by Verissimo? I loved this book, too. Another book that I find hard to explain. Very dark humor. Definitely not chick literature.

blake said...

No, I've heard of Verissimo but don't know much about him.

Darcy said...

Well, it's about a group of friends, Brazilian men, who get together regularly to have exquisite meals together. They're driven by the need to have the best culinary delights available and share them with each other. They take turns hosting these feasts.

Trouble is, they start dying, one by one after these it's sort of a humorous, dark murder mystery. Just enormously fun to read.

blake said...

I'll put it on my (increasingly humongous) Amazon wishlist!

Christy said...

I enjoy historical fiction, doesn't have to be great fiction. Anything that gets me reading with maps and reference books to look up the truth of the matter makes me happy.

The Verissimo is now on my TBR list. Thanks for the black humor recommendation.