Posts Tagged ‘book groups’

The other day, I was talking to a friend (I still have friends, you know) about the fact she had her book group that night but had only read 30 pages of the book.

“I won’t be making much of a contribution,” she admitted.

Luckily she was talking to the Right Person when it came to attending book group without having read the book.

“Bring two bottles of wine. That’s a valuable contribution!” I told her. “Also, tell them you decided to approach the book from a different angle by reading the Wikipedia entry about the author.”

She looked unconvinced.

“Or you could just bring along a list of books for future meetings and shout at them that they’re all stuck in the past and that they should move on like you have,” I suggested. I always have the best ideas.

We actually have an official book list for my book group. At our last meeting, one of our group was writing down on the back of a takeaway menu.

“You’ll lose it!” everyone warned her.

“No, I won’t,” she replied. She seemed very confident.

“No, she won’t,” I concurred. “That’s my job.”

After all, I used to be custodian of that list except, well, I lost it (the list, that is). I searched high and low for the scrappy piece of paper I’d scrawled it on, before finally having admit my error to the group.

ANYWAY, the next morning after my last book group meeting, I was about half way along on the one kilometre walk to school when Mr Justice picked up a random piece of paper on the ground, as often is his habit (you never know when you might stumble across a mystery or a treasure map, apparently). He held it out to me, asking “Isn’t this your handwriting, mummy?”.

One glance told me that this was The List. The lost one. The one I had searched high and low for and which had stripped me of whatever remaining credibility I had as a Responsible Person with my book group.

Whether it had fallen out of my coat pocket, the pram or the sky was unclear. Maybe it hadn’t even fallen. Maybe it had been there all along for six whole months. Or maybe, I thought, The Mild Mannered Lawyer had nicked it off me half a year ago and then planted it along our school route just to fuck with my head.

And then it struck me: this could be a message directly from God.  After all, you may remember, He recently made contact with me by giving me a bruise that looked like His Son. If I were an atheist instead of a weak-arse “Ooh! I don’t know if God exists or not! (*sound of pissing pants*)” agnostic, I would possibly consider taking out some kind of restraining order at this point. But since I’m as open to messages from God as I am from messages from anyone else (for example, literary agents, publishers and people who want to give me a free iphone), I decided not to be freaked out. But if this was a Message From Above what was it trying to tell me?

When I got home from the school run, there was an email from the New Bearer Of The List admitting she’d already lost it.

And so it goes. One list is found, another is lost. One door opens, another one closes. Swings, roundabouts, etc etc. That’s the message. Sheesh! It hardly seemed worth the postage from Heaven to tell me that.

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Emails sent in the act of organising Book Group breed like rabbits. The “REPLY ALL” button sees to that. Before I know it, the one email I’ve sent out has spawned dozens of other emails, all flying about confusing everyone, as books, dates, locations and availabilities keep changing. In the end, nobody has any time to read the actual book for Book Group and I start to wonder if we should adjust our expectations and just start calling ourselves an Email Group instead.

Of course, sending out a July date for a May meeting never helps. I’ll own that.

Still, as the convenor of this month’s meeting, I’d just managed to send out one last email with FINALISED DATE in capital letters in the subject title when I received some news that changed everything…

Luckily, I kept a log of the subsequent chain of events, which I will share with you now.

Tuesday 27th April, 2010

18:00 Husband announces he has to work late next Tuesday (4th May), the night of my FINALISED Book Group (note capitalisation). I spend the next 36 hours IN DENIAL.

Thursday 29th April, 2010

06:14 Before I send an email out to my Book Group, I check the dates for the UK election, which I have assumed is the reason my husband is working late. However, I discover the election is on Thursday and not Tuesday. I email him, admitting I’m a bit confused.

06:25 My husband sends me an email saying “You think you’re confused? I just sent [work colleague] a photo of a pony dressed up as Princess Leia”. He attaches a photo of a My Little Pony dressed up as Princess Leia.

06:26 My husband then sends a subsequent email stating he has to work because the Federal budget is being passed down.

06:48 I send an email out to my Book Group admitting I can no longer make the FINALISED date that I, myself, FINALISED.

14:33 Fifteen emails later, Book Group is fixed for Wednesday 19th May.

Friday 30th April, 2010

16:59 I ask my husband what he plans to do for dinner on Tuesday night. Husband asks what’s happening on Tuesday night and I gently remind him (by way of shouting) that it’s the Federal Budget and that he is working late.

17:00 Husband casually responds that he got the date wrong and the Federal Budget is actually the following Tuesday (11th May).

17:01 I realise (by way of releasing a long, loud, strangulated scream) I’ve rearranged Book Group for no good reason.

17:02 Husband says it’s not his fault he thought it was next Tuesday because everyone was talking like it was next Tuesday and what was he supposed to do.

17:03 I politely suggest (by way of sneering menacingly) my husband might like to check dates before getting me to change Book Group night in future.

17:04 Husband asks what my problem is –  I’ve got a new date so why am I complaining.

17.05 I leave the room before I kill someone. No prizes for guessing who.

17:06 I begin to secretly plan on printing out the sixty-four emails it took to arrange this month’s Book Group and make him eat them for dinner on Federal Budget night.

Wednesday 5th May, 2010

11:05 Husband rings up from work asking me to look on the calender at the week of the 10th May because he wants to book in a beer night with a friend visiting from interstate.

11:06 I tell my husband the Tuesday night is out. My husband asks if that’s my Book Group night.

11:07 My shouts are heard three suburbs over, something along the lines of “NO IT’S THE FEDDDDDDDDERALLLLLL FUCKKIKKKKKINGGGGGGGGGG BUDGGGEETTTTTTT!”.

Tuesday 11th May

19:30 Details of the Federal Budget are released to the public and everyone concludes it is one big long wet fart, hardly worthy of working late or changing Book Group dates (for example).

20:34 Husband rings from work saying he got the week of his friend’s visit wrong and can he go out for drinks with him next Wednesday (19th May). He may, of course, have been joking but it’s actually hard to tell over the sound of the phone being slammed down repeatedly.

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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.

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