• Wed, Jun 6 2012

Why I Hate Book Clubs

I was sitting in my old studio apartment, several half-eaten blocks of cheese and empty wine bottles strewn at my feet, as a group of about six women discussed the insights* they had gleaned from my book club’s pick of the month: “Nausea,” by Jean-Paul Sartre (it was my pick; what a douchebag I am).

“In the end, his determination about the meaning of life – or lack thereof – is downright depressing.”

“The protagonist is also intended to be the antagonist, a commentary on existentialism if ever there was one.”

“I didn’t finish it.”

I could feel myself getting more and more annoyed with their opinions, and at the same time, more and more disgusted with myself for my annoyance. My inner dialogue went something like this:

Me: [to my fellow book club member] Hey, guess what? I don’t fucking care what you think!

Me: [to myself] My God, you are a pretentious asshole. Do you have a better insight? Did you have something more interesting to share with the group? WERE YOU THERE WHEN HE WROTE THE FUCKING BOOK?!

It went on like this all night, with all of my spoken contributions coming out sounding either impossibly bitchy or unbearably self-deprecating. All night, that is, until the drunken women in my apartment decided to abandon the pretense of book club and start talking about blow jobs.

I honestly wish that weren’t true, because of the sheer cliché of it all, but this is a space for truth, so there you have it.

But anyway, more to the point – by the time my guests took their leave of my abode, I was torn. On one hand, I enjoyed having them over. On the other hand, I couldn’t stifle the feeling that I didn’t want to talk about books with any of them. There was the one girl who thought she knew more than everyone. Then there was the girl who couldn’t seem to have a decent insight. Then there was the chick who didn’t read the book and giggled her way through the entire conversation. And finally, there was me, the hostess with the mostess trying not to be a dickwad to everyone who had so kindly come over to her home.

It was an exercise in futility – the thoughts were coming whether I wanted them to or not, and as soon as they did, I entered into a downward spiral of shame. Sure, they weren’t a perfect group of people, but clearly neither was I. So why didn’t I want to talk about books with them? Surely each of them had something unique to say? Did I think I was better than them? Really?

As I washed the dishes (OK, like, a dish, then went to bed), my feelings about book club kind of devolved into a battle with my own mind. I wanted to be able to explain to myself  in a reasonable way exactly why I dislike talking about books with a group of strangers, but whenever I did it came out sounding – well, like I’m an asshole.

And possibly I AM an asshole. After all, I often prefer to sit and stew with my own thoughts about a book, and maybe hash it out with one or two other people who I really respect and trust. But sitting around with a group of women I don’t know that well and debating what we all think the author meant? I’m not that into it.

God, I feel like a jerk even typing that! I feel like a bad woman, and moreover, a bad person. All women like book clubs, for God’s sake. Or should I say, all women are decent enough people to respect other folks’ points of view without secretly believing that their take on “Nausea” was more in line with what Sartre had in mind.

And look, it’s not that I think book clubs are a bad idea. I don’t. I think they’re a great idea, actually. And lots of people like them. I WISH that I liked them. I love books, and I really do like other people. And it’s actually not the case that I don’t respect other people’s points of view. After all, I swear there is a decent person inside me who knows, logically, that we’re all affected differently by literature and art based on our own worldview, our experiences up until that point, our values, and where we are in our lives, and also probably a lot of other things that I don’t even know about.

So it follows that discussions such as the ones had at a book club would really serve to open up my mind, to expose me to different ways of thinking, and to get me to analyze my own point of view in a more objective way.

But I often feel (and this might just be me projecting) that a lot of conversations in book clubs take on not a Miranda July-type feeling of Utopian discourse, but rather are laced with a sort of intellectual aggression. And here’s my next point: For all I may have thought that I understood any of the books we read in my short-lived, nonfiction-only book club, I would rather sit on a cushion of rusty nails than debate what I think versus what someone else thinks.

When faced with an opposing point of view, it’s possible that I’ll engage in a bit of respectful dialogue. But if it becomes clear that I have staunchly opposite views than the person to whom I’m speaking, and neither of us are going to relent, I derive no pleasure from talking myself blue in the face to make my point.

Some people love that! Some people really like to debate, to list off their talking points, to get deep in an argument even if they have no prayer of winning.

But I am not that person. So in book club, the way this translates is that eventually, I just nod and smile in the face of opinions I don’t share, because I’m too lazy or cowardly to try to dispute them, or just because I’m not cut from the cloth that finds that kind of dialogue fun. And so, then, I either check out of the conversation or get very annoyed by it, and in this manner, any conceivable joy is taken out of the whole endeavor.

So there you have it. That’s why I don’t like book clubs. I like to have my own thoughts in peace, I don’t like to debate, and I’m an asshole.

Also, sometimes other people are idiots.

There. I said it.

*I really don’t remember what the book was about. Another benefit of book club. So these “insights” are made up, based on what I gleaned from Wikipedia. 

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  • Nancy

    I feel exactly the same way! This made me feel better. Talking about books is the one thing that realllllly fires me up (my love for books is too passionate) but I hate debating! I can be such a bitch to my friends when we talk about books.

  • porkchop

    I also find book club unsatisfying, but for completely different reasons.

    Average Book Club:
    Everyone states whether they liked/disliked/did not read the book, then spends 2 hours discussing TV shows/gossiping.

    Above Average Book Club:
    The book is discussed for 10 minutes, and Jurassic Park is discussed for…much longer.

    Book Club where everyone discusses how the author did what they did and the different ways those choices might be interpreted:
    Tuition for an MFA is not paid in Trader Joe’s wine. No one will have this conversation with you for less than $500 per credit hour.

    Book Club where people really think about how the content relates to them and use the meeting to get to know each other at the heart and soul level:
    What? I already told you: I Liked/Disliked the book. WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

  • Eileen

    Ha. I really like debating, as long as people are friendly and not assholes. But I’ve never been in a real book club, just small history seminars where we essentially did book-club stuff for a grade (in fact, the syllabus included the phrase “book club for history nerds”). It was a lot of fun, but I’m not sure if I could do it with fiction.

  • Marissa

    I found myself writing a scathing review on Goodreads of the dumb books that I read for my old book group, and then making a few positive and negative concise points during it. That helps. Then, you just need ONE good friend in there to make up a drinking game. One drink for everytime smug natural birther comments on her midwife one drink for everytime idiot teacher (who pronounced Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong the Second) makes an offbase comment ,and one drink every time giggles tries to steer the conversation to her impending wedding instead of the book she didn’t read.