What Not to Say at Book Club
Several years back, I met a very funny writer at The Erma Bombeck Humor Writers’ Conference (No, not Marcia Fine or Wade Rouse, although I did meet both of these talented authors at that same conference.) As is often the case at conferences, we were both standing in the lengthy line outside the women’s room, and we struck up a conversation by complementing each other on what we were wearing (natch…) And as we continued to chat, I learned that Susan Reinhardt was our keynote luncheon speaker and she was taking care of necessary business before stepping up to the mike in just a few minutes. (Great—I couldn’t be late if the speaker was stuck in this same queue with me…) At the time, Susan had just written “Not Tonight Honey, Wait ‘Til I’m a Size 6,” (whose clever cover was a spoof of David Sedaris’s “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim”) which I later bought, read, and loved! But at that moment, she kept me in stitches while we waited in that enormously extensive line—and it’s lucky for me that I was already where I needed to be because she had me laughing so hard, I might’ve peed my pants. (A true Southerner, Susan has some great stories—and she tells them well…)
When we were chatting recently, she began telling me about her book club and I thought it would be fun if she could share a little bit about them with y’all. Like Susan, herself, her book club sounds like they’re not high on “rules”—and it sounds like they’re a bunch of gals we would all like to hang with!
Have I ever mentioned how much I love my book club and the fine group of 10 or 12 ladies who gather each month?
We’ve been together for nearly 10 years, thanks to our founder Laurie Pappas, who owns the Coach House Seafood & Steak (delish!) in Black Mountain, North Carolina. A year after she lost her precious daughter, Katy, she found herself lonely and enjoying friends who’d come around and try to cheer her up.
“I thought having a book club would give us purpose to get together, as well as keep me reading on a regular basis,” this mother of three from North Asheville said. So in the fall of 2003, she founded our book club. We don’t really have a name – or rather have had a couple but none stuck. What did stick, however, were the bonds we made over the past decade, many of the original members still active and meeting once a month on a Monday evening in each other’s homes. We’ve all been together since our kids were in elementary school, and were there for each other during transitions, graduations, proms, colleges and other milestones and even a few missteps.
Sometimes we talk more about our kids and our lives than the book, but that’s all right by me, and often the conversations are either hilarious or healing. We are women, after all. And women do tend to get off topic, which is why having girlfriends is so important.
The other day I opened an Oprah newsletter, which I normally never do. It was about book clubs and what “Never to Say” at such meetings. I simply had to click on that link. While our group typically enjoys rousing evenings during our “meetings,” I think we’ve all broken a few of Oprah’s rules.
She begins her blog with this opener: “We love reading. We love the company and conversation. We love the stuffed mushrooms and potluck pinot noir. But every now and then, somebody says something that we really, really wish they hadn’t – especially, when that somebody is us.”
OK, I’m guilty as charged. I’ve done a few things at book club meetings I’ve come to regret, but let’s not get into that. Here is a partial list from the Oprah rant about what not to say when wining and dining and book discussing with your besties.
Her first no-no was asking members, “Who liked the book and who didn’t?” I find nothing wrong with this question. We’re always voting and rating the books at the end of each session, usually after downing all the appetizers and beverages (lemonade, of course) at the hostess’s home.
Her second point of contention was throwing out problems during book club meetings, such as “Dealing with my kids/boss has been crazy – I couldn’t get past the first chapter.” Guilty. While most come to book club to escape stress and reality, we’re always talking about various jobs, problems, losses and successes. This chitchat is as important for us as discussing The Book.
Oprah says if you didn’t have time to read the selection, sit quietly and nibble the cheese dips. Yep, or as I say, scan the cheat sheets on the book and “pretend” to have read it. I didn’t just say that.
One of my favorites that the Queen of Books claims isn’t a cool question is, “Who picked this book, anyway?” Makes a gal turn 50 shades of crimson. I think all the members in our club have asked that many times. I remember picking something really, really raunchy, but had read the great reviews and had no idea “Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper,” was so explicit. I mean the writer of “Juno,” Diablo Cody, had penned it. I tried to visualize each of our fine ladies reading certain parts of this hip-thrusting, nudity-filled memoir. I was for sure they would kick me out, but Laurie typically reserves such threats for the no-shows.
One more thing Oprah advises is never to announce, “This one is just over my head.” Well, we have a certain loveable member who always chooses very difficult classics. I remember a recent meeting when most of us decided to watch “The Grapes of Wrath” instead of reading it. So ha!
In parting, Oprah offers some final words. A member should never say, “What I really want to talk about is…opening another bottle of wine.” We have a quite a few Catholics, Greeks, and non-denominationals so that’s not a big deal during our glutinous fests.
The best part of joining a book club is sharing friendships, hardships and the fact that most groups vote on genres and selections, so we’re reading a wide variety of books. If we read them. And that is dear Laurie’s biggest issue.
“My pet peeve is when people just don’t’ read the book ’cause they didn’t like it or didn’t make an effort to find the book in a timely manner, then scramble at the last minute to find a copy,” said Laurie, who’s read every book since 2003. “Do I sound witchy saying this?”
No, Laurie. Oprah would probably give you a hug or a new Kia for those enlightening thoughts. Especially if you jumped up and down on her couch and told her how much you LOVE your book club in quite a Tom Cruise-y fit of passion.
This is the opinion of Susan Reinhardt. Contact her at email@example.com
Susan Reinhardt is the author of the hilarious and quirky novel “Chimes from a Cracked Southern Belle,” along with “Not Tonight Honey, Wait ‘Til I’m a Size 6,” “Don’t Sleep with a Bubba.” and “Dishing with the Kitchen Virgin.” www.susanreinhardt.com