Book groups are like snake oil

Both sound tempting and address issues other than the one you intended.

Of course, snake oil only answers the question of what to do with a portion of your money.  The right book club can update you as efficiently as the internet (but with no ads and no Kardashian stories).

As menu planner/cook/host for a November book club meeting, I was grateful that the assigned book featured so many food options: brunch, country club snacks, hamburger combo, Midwestern comfort foods, even Indian pudding.  I’d always wanted to try that; if you’re curious as well (Is a long-baked blend of milk, molasses, and cornmeal as great as it’s been cracked up to be?) here’s a hint.  Serve this dessert with ice cream; those who don’t love it can claim that they filled up on the topping.  At least I thought it was tasty.

You’d have to read the book–William McPherson’s Testing the Current–to understand how the centerpiece (large hurricane globe filled with Beanie Babies) illustrated one of the novel’s metaphors and elicited a chortle from the group.

And you should read it, particularly if you favor nostalgic glimpses into bygone eras; autobiographical detail and humor figure prominently, too.  I recently described it to someone as Red Sky at Morning meets Proust.  That was intended as a compliment all around.  Sadly, Testing the Current is out of print; it’s available via interlibrary loan and worth the wait.

Actually, not everyone in the group approved this choice, but disagreement always generates a livelier discussion.  Yet even for those who prefer another writing style, Testing obviously drew out many connections to individual personal experience.

That’s really what book groups are about.  Those who attend regularly discover that such involvement enhances their connections in general:

  • Everyone in our group has either renovated a kitchen or built a house in the past few years.  Thus, we’ve viewed multiple “reveals”, not to mention gotten the lowdown on tile vs. laminate.

  • Book clubbers also tend to be indie film fans; you can hear live reviews from people you trust.

  • Previously read titles promote great follow-ups.  Because one of our recent titles was a biography of Gertrude Bell, someone just emailed me the news that Angelina Jolie has signed on to play Bell in the planned biopic.

  • With an assigned book on your radar screen, you focus your information intake; our next one is Julian Barnes’ Talking It OverBarnes just published The Sense of an Ending, and I won’t have been the only one who made a point of catching his NPR interview, knowing that other groupies would be listening.  That kind of peer pressure is good.

  • But it’s still OK not to finish your Indian pudding.

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