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.
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?