The very first book club I ever attended (aside from the L. M. Montgomery reading/writing club I formed in ninth grade) was part of a BYU married ward.
Here I was, a brand-new wife, an English major, and in a strange new place, looking forward to meeting other women and making friends. I was also looking forward to talking about books.
I knew, of course, that there would be little to no chance of anyone there wanting to analyze anything according to the Rhetorical critical theory or wax eloquent about the Neo-Classical versus Romantic eras. Thank heavens; I wasn't there for a repeat of the English major stuff I was already getting at school.
But we'd talk books, and that would be fun.
The first one we read was an oldie but a goodie: James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl.
It was one I'd read as a kid, of course. (Who hasn't read it when they were young?) But reading the story as an adult was different, and I saw new things in it.
The book club gathered in a small apartment. We cooed at the five-month-old someone brought, made small talk, and then got down to business.
The gal leading the discussion began. "So, I'd like to go around the circle and have everyone tell us their favorite part of the book."
I blinked. Favorite part? That's not really a discussion. But okay, I'll go with it. This could just be a way to break the ice and find stuff to talk about.
But no. Everyone listed a "favorite." Every favorite was so shallow that there was no chance for finding a discussion topic in them. ("I liked the ladybug best." Niiice.)
Not a single answer was interesting, let alone thought-provoking.
When my turn came, I knew I'd sound like a dork, but I went ahead with my answer. I said something like, "I thought it was neat how James changed. At the beginning, he was scared and let everyone else decide things for him. But by the end, he'd really grown up and became the leader of the group."
I looked around at them, waiting for a response, but everyone shifted uncomfortably in their seats and avoided my gaze. No one said anything until the hostess went on. "Okay, then . . ." she said, turning to the next person in the circle.
I remember sitting there wondering if I'd accidentally gone all English major on them after all. But no, I hadn't. I didn't mention themes or symbols or deep imagery or any of the dozen critical theories I'd studied. I didn't go off on Milton or Wordsworth or Faulkner (although I've since got off on the latter right here).
Instead, I sat there trying to figure out where I was and why. These women, most of whom were also university students, apparently weren't there to talk books. I think they were there for the chatty female togetherness.
It was either that, or they were dumb as walnuts. The evening was sorely disappointing.
I've since belonged to several book clubs that (fortunately!) haven't resembled that first one in any way. There have been a variety of books, an even bigger variety of opinions, and a lot of discussion (even debate, at times) about the plot, the characters, and how they impacted the readers.
That's what a book club should be. I'd like to think that most book clubs think about things like how a character is different at the end than the beginning. That they wonder why the author made a certain choice over another. Where they find themes that speak to them. Where book club members expresses honest opinions, even if they differ, and all feel welcome doing so.
I never did make any close friends from that group. Such a mystery . . .
My only other negative book club experience was with one I didn't attend. A relative came to me asking for title suggestions for when she would be hosting her own book club.
"Oh, but we don't read anything fluffy like LDS fiction," she warned.
I smiled and just looked at her with my eyebrows raised, waiting for her to backtrack just a tiny bit, maybe say, "Not like your books, of course, but there are some fluffy LDS books out there." Or, "These ladies are really intellectual and want to discuss only really hardcore literary stuff. You understand."
But she didn't say a word. It's as if she'd forgotten that I write LDS fiction. She just waited for me to spit out some literary titles, because of course, I read a lot and probably knew a lot of good books. I gave her a few that would probably work for her group.
I doubt she realizes even to this day that she basically pulled the rug out from under me and demeaned what I do. I remind myself that she's not a reader, that she's not my target audience, and therefore her opinion shouldn't matter to me.
Other comments she's made make it clear that she doesn't get what it takes to write and write well. She's just clueless about the work I've put into it and still put into it. I can't hold ignorance against her, can I?
I also remind myself that the current LDS market isn't what it was even five years ago, and what she's hearing from other people is more about what they think the market is like than what it really is like . . . because most people who can't stand LDS fiction either haven't read any in many years or had the bad luck of picking up one of crappy ones.
The amount of crap and fluff on store shelves goes down every year (but yes, some exists always, just like in the national market). The quality has been going up fast, and I could have given her a list of really great (non-fluffy) LDS novels if she'd been willing to take them.
I've received great reviews and awards. Those opinions should matter to me, right? It's not as if hers should make any difference. But it does. It would be nice if she thought what I did was even a tiny step above fluff.
(I hope I won't regret posting this, but I'm quite sure she has no interest in my blog and will likely never see it.)
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