Everything we need to know about book groups we learned in high school

Things could have gotten ugly.  The book club choice for Saturday evening fell short of unanimous favor, to say the least.  Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander represents the first time in this group’s history that three members (I was one) nominated the same title.  Honestly, we believed that Outlander’s special qualities–historical content, time travel, unique ethical issues–would compensate for its being a Romance selection amid a largely non-Romance-reading group. 

Given that both genders are solidly represented in this assemblage, at least we can report that opinions were not divided as predictably as you might think: some women disliked it, too. 

At some point during the interchange (comments ranging from “I am completely addicted” to “This was the literary equivalent of Cheetos”), I realized this: high school is/was ideal training for book club success.  Just consider all the positive attributes of cliques:

  • Project a unique image/identity.  Our percentage of professional librarians, theologians, and engineers surely exceeds the average.  I’ve not heard that other book groups voted in God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible. 

  • Conform.  We agree to finish the book to the extent possible and celebrate unasked-for variety, taking on all sorts of assignments we’d never, ever choose independently.  Nominating titles is part of the deal, too.

  • But also stand out.   Though it’s OK to recommend  books pertaining to one’s area of expertise/comfort zone, the best nominations are the unusual, possibly risky ones (e.g., Jane Smiley’s Ordinary Love and Good WillSteve Stern’s The Frozen Rabbior Stephen Puelo’s Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919) that will engender discovery or promote controversy of a good kind.

  • Develop your own ritual.  Ours is called “respect the can”.  Anyone may contribute reading suggestions on slips of paper deposited into a lidded tin container.  The can is conveyed to each session, and before we adjourn a new title is extracted.  And that’s IT; the selection is final.

  • Appreciate inside jokes.  This group had existed for years before my husband and I moved here, but apparently their very first selection (it’ll remain nameless) was praised on NPR.  Everyone hated it.  Whenever that title is mentioned, the others roll their eyes and erupt into hilarity.  We laugh, too, without knowing why it was such a misfire–not that we’re sufficiently curious to read and find out. 

  •  Indulge a hearty appetite.   We can’t claim the “growing adolescent” excuse, yet the standard fare for a monthly session has evolved from light snacks to a full meal plus dessert, chosen to coincide with the theme or setting of the book.  (Of course, when we discussed Martin Cruz Smith’s Wolves Eat Dogs, discretion was advised.)  Outlander‘s Scottish locale earned high marks for inspiring our hostess’ marvelous meat pies, vegetable concoction, and raspberry dessert.  And Ed and Irene brought Scotch; they know how much we all value verisimilitude. 

  • Admit that peer pressure drives you.  And now, as next month’s hostess, I have to follow that memorable repast.  Comparisons will be made.

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