Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Book Club-- Year One

I love it when I stumble across new blogs, especially ones that belong to interesting and insightful people. One post on discussion groups by a blogger who goes by the name Snowbrush resonated with me as his experience reminds me a lot of the book club I have belonged to for the last year.

In Snowbrush's post he muses on group dynamics and how often, from one group to another, the behaviors among people don't really change. Oh sure, people are different, by and large, but when we group ourselves together there are always the talkers and the wallflowers. Not to mention the interactions that come from multiple people trying to be polite (some of the time) and trying to get a word in edgewise from the alpha dogs that always seem to dominate the conversation.

I was ambivalent when I joined my book club for a variety of reasons. Obviously I'm a book lover, but my tastes are not very similar to that of my peers. I was invited into the group by a friend with whom I had swapped books- with some success. She's a love story kind of person, which is low on my list of necessary plot points, and doesn't much care for anything violent (she still won't read "The Hunger Games.") I didn't know the other members of the group before joining and I remember scrolling through the list of books on the bestseller lists and tried to decide whether or not I could stand to read the popular-literature I was sure someone would end up picking. Only one book stood out as too cliché in the unfortunate woman with a horrible life kind of way (the favorite pick of housewives everywhere in my limited experience) so I thought I'd take a chance on reading books picked by people who are nothing like me.

When the group first got together I started breaking the group down. The extrovert of our group made herself known quickly, as extroverts do, while the rest of us diffidently tried to figure out where we'd fit in the pecking order. We had our career woman, our teacher (the extrovert's mom), the part-time working mothers and the stay-at-home moms (my group). We assiduously avoided anything controversial like politics and talked about our kids. I noticed right away that no one shared my taste in books, though I did find a few "Twilight" fans (which did not give me any comfort whatsoever).

My friend was the first to pick a book and I soon found myself reading Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghase. I was sure I'd hate the book when I read the description about twin orphans born of a pregnant nun. (A pregnant nun? Really?) But was shocked to absolutely love the book. I think I liked it more than anyone else in the group. At this point I was feeling hopeful about this whole thing.

We went on to read books like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein and The Good Daughter by Jasmin Darznik and I liked them well enough. Then someone picked the book I dreaded (it had to happen) and, well, I'm not proud of it, but I lied and said I couldn't make it that month. Then it was my turn and I mulled over my choices. I couldn't pick a standard fantasy because no one would enjoy it-- trust me on that. So, knowing we had some "Twilight" fans in the group I went for the YA dystopia Divergent by Veronica Roth. I was sure the group would think I was nuts-- to my surprise it was a hit. They loved it and have been reminding me that the sequel will be out just in time for my next pick.

Wow. This was turning out much better than I had anticipated. Not too long after that I read Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and fell in love with it so much that I raved to my group that they had to read it-- and got three of them to read it outside of being an "official" pick and they loved that too! Look at me-- influencing the group and everything. But I knew I had made an impact when one of the moms toyed with the idea of picking Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. Whoa!

We still avoid politics in our discussions. The only time the topic has come up was when it was revealed that Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a love child-- and really, politics was not the main point of that conversation. Though I guess our conversations about the seamy underbelly of the school's PTC (parent teacher club) could count as political in nature- who knew we had our own version of "Desperate Housewives" around here? I didn't until I joined the gossip fest book club.

Our extrovert still has the tendency to dominate the group, but as the sole book reviewer I get more than my fair share of good points in (it's what I do after all). The teacher, who is basically the wise woman of the group, has turned out to be one of my favorite people in the world. She's a world traveler who knows a little bit about everything-- it does my heart good to know she's teaching. The friend who brought me into the group has started to hint that she might be interested in reading some erotica (who knew?) and the neat-freak of the group (her house is spotless) has shared some interesting stories about her crazy in-laws (let's just say that it involves Megan's Law and leave it at that.)

If I've learned anything in the last year, I've learned that I'm not as different from the other moms as I thought I was. It sounds trite, but I don't make friends easily and since I'm not a joiner, who sits on every council or organizes every fund-raiser, I don't tend to be in the "in-crowd." I'm a class volunteer-- in and out in an hour. I'll donate money, but please don't make me sit on a committee. But after a year of still-tentative conversations I've learned that I'm lugging around the same insecurities as everyone else. We all dart in-and-out of the conversation, trying hard not to step on each other's toes, and fret over what we say after we leave. I've also learned that I like it when some people are absent from the group because it allows me the opportunity to really get to know the other members rather than just having two hours of polite chit-chat. I've also learned that I kind of resent it when the host doesn't serve wine- I like my social lubricant thankyouverymuch. I've realized that getting together with a group of women on a monthly basis completely satisfies my urge for girl-talk. Sometimes I even consider skipping a month because I find it a little overwhelming.

Mostly I've come to the conclusion that joining the book club was a very good thing. It makes me venture into the world, whether I want to or not, and it doesn't allow me to hold on to my assumptions about the suburban moms I see everyday. I still think I'm a different breed that most of the women I know- but I'm learning to integrate.


Budd said...

I think a mixed sex book club and guys only book club may have different dynamics.

speaking of YA, have you read Forest of Hands and Teeth.

SQT said...

Do guys have book clubs? We mostly use it as a reason to socialize. I always figured guys bond over football.

I haven't read Forest of Hands and Teeth. I've seen it-- I'm guessing it's good?

Jim Haley said...

You and my wife sound very much alike, and she's been complaining about having had trouble meeting people who she really gels with in our area. I think I'm going to suggest she see if there's a book club for her to join - I believe my local library hosts one. I'm glad to hear about this experience, not sure I would have thought to suggest this to her otherwise.

SQT said...

If your wife is like me she might be resistant to the idea. But it's been good and I would recommend trying to find a good group. It's just the right amount of female companionship for me. I've learned that I don't need a "best" friend (got one in my husband anyway) but it's nice to have a regular bit of girl talk.

Budd said...

Well there are a few guys only book clubs. Science Fiction book clubs tend to attract mostly guys especially if the core group are guys that salivate any time a woman shows up, ensuring that she never returns again. I have never been in a he-man woman haters book club though. although it might be fun.