by Jennifer Egan
Meeting at Carmyn's new place
on February 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm
JOCELYN BOWIE was thrilled by the invitation to join a book group. She had just returned to her hometown, Bloomington, Ind., to take an administration job at Indiana University, and thought she had won a ticket to a top echelon. “I was hoping to network with all these women in upper-level jobs at I.U., then I found they were in the book group,” she said. “I thought, ‘Great! They’ll see how wonderful I am, and we’ll have these great conversations about books.’ ”
Ms. Bowie cannot pinpoint the precise moment when disillusion replaced delight. Maybe it was the evening she tried to persuade everyone to look beyond Oprah Winfrey’s picks, “and they all said ‘What’s wrong with Oprah?’ ” she said.
Or perhaps it was the meeting when she lobbied for literary classics like “Emma” and the rest of the group was abuzz about “The Secret Life of Bees,” a pop-lit best seller.
The last straw came when the group picked “The Da Vinci Code” and someone suggested the discussion would be enriched by delving into the author’s source material. “It was bad enough that they wanted to read ‘Da Vinci Code’ in the first place,” Ms. Bowie said, “but then they wanted to talk about it.” She quit shortly after, making up a polite excuse: “I told the organizer, ‘You’re reading fiction, and I’m reading history right now.’ ”
Yes, it’s a nice, high-minded idea to join a book group, a way to make friends and read books that might otherwise sit untouched. But what happens when you wind up hating all the literary selections — or the other members? Breaking up isn’t so hard to do when it means freedom from inane critical commentary, political maneuvering, hurt feelings, bad chick lit and even worse chardonnay.
“Who knew a book group could be such a soap opera?” said Barb Burg, senior vice president at Bantam Dell, which publishes many titles adopted by book groups. “You’d think it would just be about the book. But wherever I go, people want to talk to me about the infighting and the politics.”
One member may push for John Updike, while everyone else is set on John Grisham. One person wants to have a glass of wine and talk about the book, while everyone else wants to get drunk and talk about their spouses. “There are all these power struggles about what book gets chosen,” Ms. Burg said. Then come the complaints: “It’s too long, it’s too short, it’s not literary enough, it’s too literary ... ”Read the complete article here.