Saturday, November 13, 2010

Join The Club

My mom, who is a member of a book club, has been calling me up every few weeks to bitch about her reading choices. "Eat Pray Love is terrible," she groaned. Having read the dust jacket and seen the trailer for the movie (the thesis of which seems to be "Isn't Julia Roberts just swell?"), I wholeheartedly agreed with that sentiment. That woman, the one with the smug writing style and the white-lady travels to Bali, Belize, and some guy's futon, was a huge source of derision for my mom and I - she having had the reading experience, and me being the knee-jerk judgmental reactionary I am.

My mom has had mixed success with book clubs, as have I. My favourite book club story is when she sent me on a search for Sophie's World, the mega-bestseller about philosophy and adolescence, two of my least favourite things. I spent almost an hour in the second-hand bookstore, combing the S section, gave up in frustration, and then got uproariously laughed at by my mother, who informed me that the author was Jostein Gaarder, not Joe Steingardner. Mission eventually accomplished, but like, come on. The book, which was like, seven hundred pages of philosophical, sophomoric, moronic gabbling, was not well received at casa di Mama.

When I was a youth, I was in a book club, along with several other of the less social successful kids in my fourth-grade class. We read titles like Maniac Magee, The Bridge To Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins (whose name I'll admit to still not knowing how to pronounce). We had meetings at one of the many Jennifers's house - there were seriously, like, eight Jennifers in my class that year - and she was one of those kids who had been saddled with all the unfortunate allergies and/or hypersensitive parents. Her birthday cake, which weighed an easy ten pounds, was made of rice flour and stevia. Anyway, I was lucky to come of age when some classic kids lit was being written - Gordan Korman novels, Paula Danziger books, all the Newbery award winners that were thought-provoking and well-written.

I know Oprah thundered all over the concept of the book club in recent years, and the subsequently embarrassment of the Frey debacle sort of took the wind out of her sails a little. Not to mention Franzen and his eff-you take on the whole phenomenon. I do like a good book club, though - Canada Reads is an especially good one, what with the whole home-grown bent and the fight-to-the-death element that's so pleasing. But really, any old group of folks can get together in the name of literature.

We tend to want to share the things we love, be it books, movies, comics, music. One of the best variations on the "club" theme was the Music club one of my friends joined. Each member chose two albums to listen to, and discussion ensued. Themes and similarities were debated and discounted, and the whole undertaking could be as shallow as a cursory listen on the subway, or an obsessive, repetitive round that both destroys and rebuilds the soul - you know, whatevs. But no matter what kind of media you're delving into, it's not about the's about the community.

I miss the days of my childhood book club, mostly because I still love reading books meant for children, but also because books are amazing, life-changing ways of accessing emotions and information. I miss sitting down with the written word, knowing that, at some point, I was going to talk about it. Maybe my early years as a reader helped shape my interminable stint as an English student, or my writing, or the miles of bookshelves I've stuffed with my favourites. I believe early access to reading helps make readers, the way dancing with my dad to Mike Oldfield helped shape my interest in electronic music. And early access to other people makes children into human beings. Book clubs? That's some good humanity right there.

1 comment:

  1. Par for the course Co-op response, but...Co-op could use a book club.