Book Group

Many years ago – when I no longer felt obligated to join such things, yet before I had lost complete interest and therefore chose to indulge that lack, I joined a book group.  I can’t tell specifically why I did such a thing; all I know is that when the leader announced to us that this was to be a Ladies Only group, I felt rather thwarted.  

At our inaugural meeting, we were instructed to choose three titles.  These titles were written on separate scraps of paper, which were then placed to simmer in a clay teapot.  This object – of mysterious origin – had a dour patina, dull and dark.  We each scratched our initials on this former haven for leaves and sympathy.

At each subsequent meeting we would discuss our chosen book, before we were positively weary of the thing and decided it was time to take another dip in the pot for our next book.  I always hoped it would be something about dragons or kings, but there was a strict law against non-fiction.

Aubrey Reads

Now, I am an infamous re-reader.  It takes a lot for me to actually step up and ask a stranger to dance.  So my choices were ones I had already read, albeit some time ago.   As for the other members’ choices, I was fairly sure that I would dislike each one (I recall wanting to use ‘Jitterbug Perfume’ for skeet-shooting – that was my offical review). And unwanted books are so tragic.  I had no desire to start an anthology of misery. 

We met every few weeks.  None of us were quick readers.  And none of the these books had pictures.  We read ‘Lolita’, ‘Perfume’, ‘The English Patient’, ‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’, ‘Dictionary of Khazars’ (I quite liked this one, and actually kept it in my collection for some years)…many others.  Two of my books were chosen, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ and ‘Vile Bodies’.

In time, our interest waned.  Some of our members got married. (I went to one of these marriages – we were encouraged to attend in fancy dress; man and wife were joined by a priest dressed in an 18th century white mask and black domino.) Work for others got increasingly possessive: one’s husband was going to New Zealand to provide tech work on something called The Lord of the Rings.  (he hoped it would be a success)

Now, I have recently been cleaning my apartment.  Stray piles of Unwanted Things are occurring everywhere, like small, stationary tornadoes.  One evening, as I was waist-deep in the oddities of one of my closets, I found our teapot – if possible, even duller and darker than I remembered.

There were still some scraps of paper inside.  Thirteen stories still waiting to be discussed, waiting for their plotlines to take to the air for their subtleties to be thrashed out, misunderstood, hated or applauded:

  • ‘The Golden Notebook’ – Doris Lessing
  • ‘Cakes and Ale’ – Somerset Maugham
  • ‘Travels with Charley:  In Search ofAmerica’ – John Steinbeck
  • ‘Love In The Time Of Cholera’ – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • ‘Gidget’ – Frederick Kohner
  • ‘Atonement’ – Ian McEwan
  • ‘Humboldt’s Gift’ – Saul Bellow
  • ‘The Crimson Petal and The Wine’ – Michael Faber
  • ‘EmpireFalls’ – Richard Russo
  • ‘Michael Connelly’s most recent’
  • ‘American Pastoral’ – Philip Roth
  • ‘Vida’ – Delacorta
  • ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus’ – Joseph Conrad

Which of these titles was my final suggestion?

A Yellow Book and a Yellow Chair

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27 responses to “Book Group

  1. Purely delightful read, Aubrey. Every single sentence captivates! Popping with twinkling, starry nuances.
    The English Patient – ugh.
    Travels With Charley – yay!
    To Kill a Mockingbird – be still my heart.
    Empire Falls – yay
    Atonement – yay.

    Best to you always!

  2. I think Atonement was your suggestion, because of your fascination with World War I.

  3. I love re-reading. And I loved “A Prayer For Owen Meany”. I need to reread it.

  4. I kind of wish you’d all read “Gidget”.

  5. I’m sure you didn’t suggest the Michael Faber book, as it’s actually The Crimson Petal and the White. You’re far to precise to make such an error.

  6. Hmm. I love Travels with Charley and Doris Lessing, but I suspect Atonement was your suggestion. I’m guessing you would love Fin de siècle literature and the fatalism of World War I. (That’s not in a bad way!)

  7. Gidget – I’d put money on it!

  8. pyrit – my dear one, I remember people being positively thrilled with TKAM. All had read it, but not for some years – for every single member, it was a wonderful reunion between reader and book

    LC – you are WRONG, O Published one!

    Lauri – didn’t someone’s hand get chopped off in that one? As I recall, that made me feel all squirmy and weird.

    LT – me too! And I believe I’ve said it before, but my group at camp – the sole time I went – was called The Beach Bunnies.

    steve – not so! More is the pity, as I might have liked that one.

    Redz – shame on the member who made such a crude and blatant error – thank goodness it wasn’t me!

    Hangaku Gozen – the fin de siecle is a brilliant subject: the candle that flares the brightest before its decadance implodes upon itself.

    e2thec – no Gidget! The closest I ever got was watching the original ‘Gidget’ and ‘Gidget Goes Hawaiian’ on TV.

    • Now that you mention it, Owen Meany does have an incident in which something squirmy and weird happens. I won’t elaborate in case someone wants to read it. But, John Irving pretty much is the epitome’ of squirmy and weird.

      • LOL! I never thought of that, but you’re right! “Squirmy and weird” sums up John Irving, over whom I quit a book group. The other members kept picking his books, and I thought after Cider House Rules that one book by him was enough.

    • I was kind of joking, but not really – leave it to you to throw a spanner in the works. 😉

      So… either the Maugham or the Garcia Marquez.

  9. I remember when I was managing bookshops and women would come in, in absolute terror as it as their turn to choose the book club title. They would of course expect us to choose, and we of course chose something that we had enough stock of to sell to a group. Not a great process for choosing books.
    You also hit on the head one reason I would find a book club difficult – I read mainly non-fiction. I love to read about the lives of real people. I am reading a memoir by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire, that is a tremendous read at the moment -“Wait for Me”.

  10. I like to read reference books or else science fiction. I’d never make it in a book club. They’d be all wanting something Oprah-fied and I’d be “I’ve heard about this great zombie book, and then this book set in an orbital colony of genetically altered humans that meets up with some aliens is getting great reviews…”

  11. I love to read reference books too. Mostly about nature. We’ve had this conversation before, LT, back in Vox days.

  12. I am always buying bird books and flower books and insect books and mushroom books. Those are truly fun to leaf through. Especially tree books. Ok, sorry.
    I have read a lot of John Irving. Owen Meany was my favorite. Each one of his is so different. I really thought Cider House Rules was interesting. It did get way into too much squirmy and weird, too. It’s amazing what goes on in life and in peoples’ minds.

    • For finding out what goes on in life and in peoples’ minds, there is nothing that can match a good history book. That is why when I had to choose my three books, I was hard pressed to find any acceptable fiction titles. All I had were history, art, nature and the occasional fiction – amongst which were ‘To Kill A Mockingbird,’ ‘Vile Bodies,’ and

      ‘Cakes and Ale’ by Somerset Maugham! Which makes e2thec the winner! Your prize is a brass loving cup etched with my portrait and bragging rights for the entire weekend (please return to TheCafeRoyal by 9AM Monday).

      • Muitissimo obrigada, Aubrey!

        Actually… Cakes and Ale was my very 1st guess, since I know you love early-mid 20th c. English fiction, but I threw it over in favor of Gidget, thinking that you were trying to pull their legs. ; )

        I can see you liking Garcia Marquez, actually…

    • i love books about animals and birds and plants, but I pretty much leaf through them at the library or bookstore instead of buying them. (I have way too many *other* books already!)

      Irving strikes me as being squicky somehow. There certainly are a lot of “squirmy and weird” things in his novels – I remember reading about one of truly grotesque plot twists in reviews of The Hotel New Hampshire. I have avoided his books ever since.

  13. *Cheers* for e2thec!

  14. Now that I keep thinking about it I have read quite a few of Irving’s. I mean there’s Garp. With the Undertoad and the car stick shift. *shivers*
    Why did I keep reading them? I must have a weird bit in me, too. Ok, we knew that.
    There’s a girl at work who just LOVES him. So everytime I read one I give the book to her. Then she reads it, gives it back to me and we look at each other and shake our heads. And laugh. His last two. “Until I Find You” and the one about the logging camp something Night in some town. Headshakers, but still fascinating like a train wreck.

  15. Aubrey–“Love in the Time of Cholera”–what a gorgeous book, redolent of romance in one of the most romantic places on earth…may I also suggest “Gabriella, Clove, and Cinammon,” by Jorge Amado, one of the sweetest and silliest books I know…Long live the American tropics! RT

  16. So many books – so little time. I’ve often thought about hosting a book group but worried that finding people with similar tastes would be too difficult. I enjoy historical fiction, like “Kristin Lavransdatter” and “The Master of Hestviken” by Sigrid Undset or “The House of the Spirits” by Isabel Allende. Haven’t read most of the ones mentioned above!

  17. How did I miss this post? Great one – I copied the list and I hope to check out these books. I am not exactly a re-reader but if I really and truly enjoy a book, I am loathe to finish it. So I start it again under the guise of well, I put it down for a few months and can’t remember what happened.

  18. I just read this and guessed the Somerset Maugham immediately, although I can’t prove that, obviously. It just seems very you, going by everything else here, in a way that none of the others do.

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