Book groups are a bit like trying to find a Steve Guttenberg movie at your local Video Easy store – difficult enough to find in the first place, but to find a good one is nigh impossible.
One friend once belonged to a group organised through her local library and her tales of it chilled me to my core. Firstly, they expected you to have closely read the whole book and not to have just sped-read each chapter in the three minutes of reading time you have each night. Secondly, you were expected to turn up with notes you’d made about the book – and not just of the Brodies variety. Thirdly, there was mention of additional reading – and not just “Mr Brown can Moo. Can you?” or “There’s a Wocket in my Pocket”. And finally, it was the sort of group that would certainly never – never! – approve of anyone wikipedia-ing the book’s synopsis five minutes before you went along to the meeting. Should such a heinous crime be uncovered, you would be summarily dismissed from the group to allow some more worthy soul on the waiting list to take your place. Yes, apparently there are people waiting to join such groups. In my day, you would have just enrolled in an English unit at a university but I guess these-a-days the book group option is a whole lot cheaper, if unaccredited.
Thankfully, my group is a little more relaxed than all that – for one thing, it’s not essential that you finish the book or even read it at all. The conversation usually – and quickly – stretches beyond the nominated book to larger issues such as religion, politics, philosophy and why that body-shaping underwear I bought makes me look like the Michelin Man (not quite the “body-shape” I was hoping for, thank you very much, Nancy Ganz). We may then return to discussing the book, but then again we may not.
There are many reasons why I love my Book Group. For one thing, I love a good healthy round-table discussion with lively like-minded individuals. And not the usual kind of round-the-kitchen-table discussion I have with my family – bless their little odd-socks – where it starts well but usually disintegrates into in-fighting and name-calling – and that’s just between me and my husband (boom-boom!). I also like reading books outside my comfort zone and being surprised by books I would have otherwise bypassed because they had silver writing on their covers. And – on occasion – I even enjoy reading books that I don’t like, particularly when a forum like a book group forces me to articulate *why* I don’t like it and not just dismiss it out of hand the way that Mr Justice used to dismiss anything green on his plate (“It’s yucky.”). I think it’s so important to remain critically aware in some aspects of my life and not just completely surrender to the indiscriminate enthusiasm required of a parent (For example: “Oh Pixie, that line you just drew is so straight and so very liney! You’re the best line drawer ever!” and “Oh, Tiddles – you did a poo! What a clever little boy you are! And what a lovely little poodly-schmoodly-poo it is, too!”).
Anyway, a couple of nights ago, it was my turn to host book group. (Over the years, we’ve experimented holding it in many different locations and have recently discovered it’s easier to hear each other talk over the sound of our children wailing in their beds than it is over ambient music or people just generally having a normal social life). I was surprised by how excited Mr Justice got about it, particularly because he was about to be condemned to wail in his bed for the night. He spent a lot of time lovingly preparing the loungeroom – which mostly involved sticky-taping a peacock feather to the coffee table and writing a sign which enigmatically read: “Book Group Only! Take a book!”.
Soon after 7:30pm, everyone arrived and I can safely say that pretty much no-one paused for breath for the next two-and-a-half hours. About half-way through, my husband – whose monumental task is to settle the kids each night – dropped by to say Mr Justice was still awake, apparently still beside himself with excitement. Too shy to come out himself to see us, he’d instead asked my husband to take a photo on the digital camera and bring it back to show him “what a book group looked like”. I don’t quite know what he was imagining we would be doing, but we must have come in well below expectation because when I checked on him five minutes later, he was fast asleep.
Luckily for me, I obviously get a whole lot more out of Book Group than that. And here are my hopes for the future: may my book group go on and on and on and keep giving me an excuse to flex that otherwise sedentary brain muscle, may people keep writing good books for me to read, and may I eventually find some underwear that actually makes my stomach look flat. And not necessarily in that order.