Tag Archives: books

Book clubs are for more than books

When was the last time your book club discussed a book? If it’s anything like mine, discussing the book takes a backseat to socializing. My book club comprises my oldest friends. It is older than my marriage. The original, core group of members were girlfriends who worked for the same company and knew everything there was to know about one another. When we convened for book club we didn’t need to spend any time catching up; we could focus on the book. And in the beginning we read serious literature like Of Human Bondage and Sons and Lovers. We were still relatively new when we decided to include our significant others, inviting them to join us for a discussion of Our Man in Havana, a book deemed light enough for them to enjoy. The men never left, and the book choices were wide and varied.

Over time we created an algorithm for who would choose the next book. The variables included who hosted last, who chose the last book, and whose house we were going to next. It ends up being rather complicated (I blame the math majors among us) and we spend a few minutes at each meeting reviewing how it works. We also created a mnemonic to help us remember whose house we would meet at next. It would work, too, if we could remember what the mnemonic meant.

We’ve read a lot of wonderful books. I’ve bought each one, filling several bookshelves. There were also some memorable disappointments. No one made it through Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland, and we still laugh about how painful The Master of Ballantrae was. We used to work hard to find books that none of us had read. A few years ago we decided it might not be a bad idea if someone had read the book that was being suggested. That way we could assert some form of quality control.

If life had stayed the way it was in those early days, we’d probably still be diligently discussing books, but that’s not the way life works. The group has had marriages and children, a divorce and illnesses. The company we once worked for doesn’t exist anymore and none of us has worked with another of us for many years. We try to meet every two months, but it probably averages out to more like three or four. We use the time to catch up; a lot can happen in three months. We spend a weekend in the fall at my family’s house in Vermont. A lot of visiting gets done around the fireplace with a few bottles of wine, when no one has to drive anywhere. And there’s an annual pilgrimage to another family’s home on the beach in Gloucester. We talk about having book club in Tuscany, but haven’t yet. No one is ruling it out though. Maybe when all the kids are out of college.

When I suggest that my husband read the book for the next meeting, he scoffs that it’s not a book club; it’s a social club. But he’s wrong. There are always a few people who have actually read the book, and however anemic, there is time spent discussing it. A good book club is about more than books. It’s about the great stories we all have to tell.

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Shop ’til you drop, or not

I am hardly what you’d call a conspicuous consumer. It’s not surprising given that I have little tolerance for shopping. I walk into a department store and immediately feel overwhelmed. I’m instantly reminded of all the things I’ve been meaning to replace; elderly, shapeless sweaters, my worn-out purse, the leather jacket with the tear in the shoulder. And then there are the things I think I’d enjoy; some kind of makeup that would make me feel, if not look, younger, gloves that are warm and stylish, a party dress (and a party to wear it to). If, however, I stop to look at something other than what I came in for, I use up some of my limited supply of shopping energy, which I need in order to execute the intended purpose of the trip.

Despite the fact that I lack a ‘shopping-for-pleasure’ gene, I don’t deprive myself. I splurge on all sorts of things. Why just yesterday, I threw out the bar of soap in my shower because it had gotten too small. Someone else might have been able to wring a dozen or more showers out of it, but that didn’t deter me. I like a bar of soap with some heft to it.

I splurged at the supermarket today. I bought a bag of baby carrots. After turning up my nose at carrots for most of my life, I discovered that it’s not carrots I dislike, it’s carrot preparation. Per pound, I’d undoubtedly pay less for a bunch of unpeeled carrots, but then I’d never eat them. So now I buy baby carrots. You know the ones, they’re pre-peeled and can be eaten without guilt by the fistful. Nor do I any longer wash and tear lettuce. Whoever invented pre-washed bags of mixed greens should be awarded some sort of prize. Life is too short to spend any of it managing lettuce consumption.

Much of my splurging is done on food. Since I’m typically in charge of feeding my little family, I’m responsible for many of our takeout meals. Andrew lives for Friday night when he can eat pizza, but Hannah’s not a big pizza fan, so I try to give her equal time with Chinese or Thai food. Then there are the days when I’ve spent too long doing, I’m not sure exactly what, and run out of time for food preparation. And if I haven’t gotten to the supermarket, and there’s nothing in the refrigerator to eat, can you really call takeout splurging, or is it a necessity?

Sometimes I buy things online. (If you’re not doing it where someone can see, does that make you an inconspicuous consumer?) For instance, I always buy the book my bookclub is reading (next up is Little Bee, by Chris Cleave). I like the tangible evidence of how long we’ve been together as a group, almost twenty years now. I’d prefer to buy those books locally, but every time I turn around another local bookstore has disappeared. If I promise to splurge on books more than soap, or carrots, or lettuce, do you suppose I can lure a bookstore back to the neighborhood?

Here’s an idea, someone should open a bookstore that also sells soap, vegetables and clothes. But then there’d be too much variety, and when I walked in I’d just get tired and have to walk right out again. I have to stop now; I’m exhausted.

Self-censoring is a parent’s best weapon

When my daughter graduated to the Young Adult section of the library I was proud and excited. I didn’t give a thought to what she was reading because I naively assumed that if it was labeled Young Adult than it was age appropriate. Granted, she hadn’t hit thirteen yet so I knew some of the books might be too adult but nonetheless I figured that if she wanted to read them, and could understand them, then it was all good. And if she couldn’t understand them it didn’t matter anyway.

Then one day she told me she’d read a great book and I should read it too, so I did. That was the end of my blissful ignorance. In that particular book, Deadline, (which, by the way, I thought was extremely well-written and recommend highly) there was, in no particular order; a boy with a terminal illness; a girl with a little brother who turned out to be her son, the result of being raped by her uncle; an alcoholic ex-priest who’d molested children, and more. That was when I learned that nothing is taboo in YA literature.

That experience made me question, briefly, my decision not to censor her reading material, however, my daughter is a voracious reader; it’s not unusual for her to take ten books out of the library at a time. It would be a full time job to stay on top of YA books to the extent that I could approve or reject her choices. Laziness aside (which believe me, is a major contributor to my resistance) censoring anything is a slippery slope. My daughter knows better than I do what she’s capable of understanding and if it’s too graphic, or too scary, she self-censors.

The movie rating system, designed to protect parents from making stupid mistakes with their children’s viewing choices, continuously disappoints me. The choices that the MPAA makes are not consistent with the choices that I would make for my child. I’d much rather she hear a few F-bombs than be exposed to people being blown up, yet the former nets an R rating and the latter a PG-13.

We were away for a weekend with another family and we rented I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry for the kids to watch, because my daughter insisted it was age-appropriate. The kids in question ranged from 9- to 13-years-old. The sophomoric humor was immediately off-putting for me but the kids were enjoying it. Each time something questionable was said or done the parents would sneak looks at each other to see who was going to be the first to crack and shut it off. Consensus came during a shower scene where several buff naked men, shot from the back, prepared to play ‘pick up the soap.’ Our collective parental gasp made it clear that no amount of arguing was going to get the movie turned back on. That movie was PG-13.

This weekend, we watched Up In the Air. It had one brief scene of a naked woman, shot from the back, and verbal innuendo about the sex post-facto. Oh yeah, there were F-bombs. That movie was rated R. Guess which one I’d prefer my daughter watch?

I continue to censor movies in my own, lazy fashion. I know from experience that the visual nature of movies makes a deeper impression on my daughter than reading, so if it’s too ‘adult’ or scary we don’t allow it. But then, if it was too ‘adult’ or scary she wouldn’t want to see it.

When it comes to books, however, self-censoring is a highly effective parenting tool, and the only one I need.