Aleteia

In defense of those who avoid book clubs

GIRL READING BOOK
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A bibliophile mom wants you to know you’re not alone if you prefer to stay home.

As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, a graduate of a Great Books college, a sometimes writer, and a big reader, you’d think I’d be on the waiting list of every book club in my small university town — and there are a lot of them. But totally against type, I don’t belong to a book club and probably never will.

Sometimes I regret this rigid, blanket policy of mine, made in haste when we first moved here with a new baby and that general sense of overwhelm that can bring. I still ask to stay on email lists “just in case,” or I show up the night they’re watching a movie. Because for me, it’s not the participants — it’s something about the book club thing itself. Maybe you’re like me, or maybe you know someone who turns down your invitations to join your book group. Here are a few reasons I decided to just say no …

Reading on a deadline

Doesn’t everyone have anxiety dreams about being back in school and not knowing where your class meets, or realizing you haven’t been to class all year, or forgetting your locker combination, or not having finished the assignment? No, just me? Well, anyway … the idea of a looming book club meeting an an unfinished book I don’t even like on my nightstand sounds like torture. Things come up all the time. I realize this is true for everyone, everywhere, and that other members probably understand when someone hasn’t finished the book — but then what’s the point of getting together? Do you skip that meeting? Put your hands over your ears when the others helpfully shout “spoiler alert!” at you? I stress out just thinking about it.

Do people even talk about the books?

I suppose this really varies from club to club and book to book, but haven’t we all seen the parodies where these meetings are really all about the chitchat and wine? (There’s a particularly good one in Season 5 of the British comedy Absolutely Fabulous where a celebrity gossip magazine is chosen and most of the members couldn’t even manage to read that.) Not that I have anything against chitchat or wine, but maybe I’ve made myself crazy finishing the book and now it doesn’t even matter. In any case, I’ve got wine at my own house. Stop by for a chat if that’s what you’re after. I’ll be in my yoga pants.

Too late at night

I’m tired. Are you tired? I am not at my best at 8 p.m. these days, unless I’m on vacation, and then I don’t care about my best. Weekend nights are understandably hard to book, but during the week I just can’t do it. By 8 o’clock at night I crave some solitude, some time for self-care, and I miss my husband. And, maybe I’m still in yoga pants. My dad used to say about me, “the inertia is strong with this one.” It’s true, and I take after him. If I’m home at 8 p.m., I’m home for the night.

Tough to quit

Okay, so you’ve joined a book club and now you realize you don’t like it. As I see it you’ve got two choices: 1) Be the one who never shows up or, 2) Tell the group you’re leaving and then have to answer truthfully when they ask why.

For the first 20 years of my life I was a big joiner — it drove my parents crazy. And now — here’s another glimpse into my weird dream life — I have a repeated dream that I’ve quit the marching band (yep) and it feels amazing. Then all of a sudden I’m unexplainably back in the band again. The quit won’t stick! I fear this will happen with a book club. Maybe it’s because I feel like “I don’t like it” is rude and not a good enough reason, or maybe it’s the risk of alienating friends with whom I’d love to spend more time with but just not in this way.  My solution? Don’t join in the first place.

One of the big drawbacks of my position as a solo reader is that when I do see friends and acquaintances they all know each other a little more and have an ease of conversation that I suppose must be a happy side effect of reading and talking together with some regularity. Meaty literary conversation is not common in most social gatherings (lucky you if that’s not the case) so I do see why some people choose book clubs. I always feel a little flicker of something — is it regret? hope? — when I look up from my book (most recently my first encounter with Graham Greene) hoping to lock eyes with somebody else reading the same thing, sharing a connection over that amazing moment only books can deliver. But then, just as quickly, I’m happy to dig back in and enjoy it all by myself.

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