Book, wine, and fire

How I Started (and Ended) a Book Club

Several years removed from high school and college, my friends and I came up with the innocent idea of forming a book club. We were well read, literary types, we told ourselves. Well, most of us were. From the very beginning, the club was intended to be an exclusive group. Not everyone in our immediate group of friends was thought of in the same intellectual light. Elitism and literature have long gone hand in hand, and we were glad to continue the tradition of excluding others from our hobby.


Chosen Elite

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In any case, secret separate group chats were formed, ideas for the first book were proposed, and bickering broke out almost immediately. It turns out that even in a group of close friends, tastes can vary widely. Eventually the group began to lean toward Roberto Balaño’s last novel 2666. Upon learning it was a translation from Spanish, I was generally opposed to the pick. Although I studied Spanish for more than five years in school, I doubt I would be able to actually comprehend a novel written in the language. I also feel that so much is lost in translation, even with the best translators hard at work, that you’re not really reading an authentic representation of the work. That’s just my opinion.


Anyhow, we ended up settling on 2666, which I begrudgingly read. The problem with reading and discussing books of your own volition is that there is so little incentive to stay on topic. Any talk about the book would quickly derail into off-topic nonsense. While my friends and I enjoyed playing up our East Coast intellectualencia credentials, we really lacked a lot of the needed sophistication. Less wine and cheese, more beer and pizza. Also, talking about books outside of a classroom setting requires an iron will and tremendous amounts of focus, and there are just so many distractions.


We did manage to move past our first book and start a second one, but the cracks were already beginning to show. I basically muscled in some contemporary American literary fiction in order to stonewall some of the more outlandish books that others in the club had proposed, I thought foolishly. While we may all have pretended that book club operated on democratic values, it really boiled down to a competition of who had the strongest personality. Our second book ended up being Libra by Don DeLillo, mostly on my say so.


Turn to host book club

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Our lack of collective discipline meant that while others raced through our second book, others read at a glacial pace. Some never even started Libra at all and instead read something else entirely. Internal divisions were threatening the stability of the club. Even worse, the excluded members of the friend group were hurt , and were demanding admission to the book club. When those of us who had actually read the book met up for discussion, we agreed that we needed to pick something that we would all actually get around to reading, and would appease the barbarians at the gates. 


Bert's book club chooses fifty shades of grey

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A science fiction selection with an upcoming cinematic tie-in managed to prolong the club’s lifespan for a little while. Most of the earnest readers in the club actually managed to get through Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. However, the planned face-to-face discussion of the novel never materialized. There were now far too many people in the book club, from too many different friend groups. All the voices drowned out any sort of possible consensus and the club petered out attempting to read another science fiction yarn, Hyperion, but without any sort of tangible success. For my own part, I went back to whittling off titles on my own personal reading list.


Out of the club

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So what did we learn? Turning what is essentially a solitary activity into a social one is a chore. Also, manipulating and controlling your friends is hard work, especially when they have such bad taste in literature.


Feature Image Via Glasses Wine Bar