Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Club Dilemma

So, I've been in a book club off and on now for about 5 years. I really love the idea of the book club: intellectual women gathering to discuss important philosophical and literary ideas in a nineteenth-century-salon-fashion, but without the corsets. Here's the problem: I usually hate the book.

That's right. With a few notable exceptions (such as The Red Tent), I usually end up despising everything I read in book club. I don't know if it's the book club that makes it so, or if perhaps book club appropriate books are just not my cup of tea. I understand that the art of choosing books for book club is a complicated one: It must be engaging, but not too long (people only have a month to read it), interesting, but not too controversial (you might not know the political commitments of your fellow book-clubbers). One must balance the interests of all the different members of the group, but not pick anything too "outside the box."

Mostly, I feel that most book club books fall into the following three categories:

1) Oprah Books. These are outrageously long, descriptive works in which the lives of the protaganists spiral downward in an utterly horrifying and unpredictably depressing fashion, leading to the unsatisfying conclusion in which everyone's life ends up a little bit (or a lot) worse. Case in point: The House of Sand and Fog, White Oleander, She's Come Undone.

2) Chic Lit. I hate this genre title even more than I despise the books in it. These are short, easy, reads that seem perfect for womens' book clubs in that they cover all aspects of life as a woman: shopping, travel, friendship, marriage, divorce, child-bearing (as if those are all that we do). Unfortunately, they are usually incredibly shallow and poorly written. I'd rank the following among the worst offenders recently: The Secret Life of Bees, 1,000 Days in Venice, ANYTHING from the shopaholic series.

3) Feel-Good, Real-Life Narratives These include any non-fiction books that make us feel cultured and involved in the world. Although I liked Reading Lolita in Tehran, it definitely falls into this category, as does Eat, Pray, Love.

So what is a well-meaning, book-clubbing girl to do? I can either depress myself, demean my gender or spend 30 minutes before bed each night feeling self-righteously engaged in the world. Not great options as far as I'm concerned, but alas, for this book-clubber, the only options there are.


  1. I agree with your book club assessment. I am a little disappointed you did not mention your most favorite Oprah book: "We Were the Mulvaneys." I also just read "The Story of Edward Sawtelle" (another Oprah book) and your assumption is spot on regarding plot. I thought I would share this in case you don't want to waste your time!

    I really think the key to book club is to have a small group of people you really know and can tell them their book choice was f-ing stupid and vice versa. Book club with strangers is very stifling. You worry about what book to pick or what dish to make when you're real friends don't care if you bring a cheap bottle of wine of white trash chicken enchiladas.

    Keep up the hilarity, I love it!

  2. Right on, friend! And you do know how I love white-trash chicken enchiladas!