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Book Group Break April 7, 2011

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

I have a love/hate relationship with my book group. Not with the people—I really like the people. More with the process and how it sometimes goes down.

I’ve been a part of this book group since its first meeting in January 2001. It’s an almost-once-a-month thing. The host both chooses the book and cooks dinner for everyone else, so it’s a big deal, especially when a lot of everyone else shows up and you’re cooking for sixteen. But there are so many people in the group that at most, one only has to host once a year. I once went two whole years between hostings.

Here in the wilds of Vermont, it’s a great way to get together with a bunch of other women and see each other, and a way to get out during the long winter. (The woman who began the group chose the women-only rule.)

In the beginning, I almost never missed a meeting, and I always finished the book. It’s the deadline-driven, schooled part of me that felt I couldn’t be sloppy about it. Over the years, things have changed. The past couple, my attendance has been sporadic at best (in part because of all those trips to Portland), and I’ve attended a few of these meetings without having read the book, sometimes without ever having intended to.

In the beginning, it used to bug me that it was hard to get anyone to talk about the book. But once I accepted that this was actually a supper club and the book was kind of peripheral, I was better about it. And I was better about not caring if I’d read the book or not.

But what annoys me is when people do actually talk about the book but feel that they need to talk about the book at the exact same time another person is talking about the book. There are many nights when people interrupt each other and talk over each other. I find this very rude, and I completely shut down when this happens. (I wonder if it triggers some deep-seated psychological reaction of something from my past?)

Some people have explained to me that they come from a culture in which interrupting makes it clear that you are interested. I get that. Still, I come from one in which constantly interrupting makes it clear that you are rude.

I’m sure I’m guilty of interrupting people too. I’ve seen me do it.

Sometimes, I should add, we have marvelous, civilized discussions about the book. Sometimes.

The last time I went to book group, in January, it was one of those huge ones, with 15–20 people. Our hostess had put out a delightful spread (the food at these book groups is usually to die for). I had been excited to read the book, Patti Smith’s Just Kids, in part because I had been intending to read it anyway (At last! Someone picked something on my list!). I thoroughly enjoyed it. When the group started talking about the book, there were two or three conversations going on at the same time—likely because the group was so big, and it was as if we’d broken into small discussion groups. I actually wanted to hear what people were saying—well, some of them anyway, and many of them weren’t sitting near me. I pretty much hated what was happening. I can’t follow three conversations at once. I left thinking, I need a break.

I’ve needed and taken breaks before.

So the last couple of months I’ve been working through my own pile of books. I should note that when I am active in book group, I barely have time to read anything but the book group selection. As I read all day for work, my only recreational reading happens for about 10–15 minutes at night before bed. That doesn’t get me through books very fast.

First, I caught up with my Rolling Stone magazines. I normally don’t subscribe to magazines, because of this very lack of time to read, but my niece was selling subscriptions, and I chose something I found myself reading compulsively when visiting friends. The good news is that I discovered that I actually can read on the elliptical and treadmill and bike while working out at the gym-with-no-TV-screens, so I’ve been reading Rolling Stone there.

But books? Well, I finally read Steig Larrson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and was appropriately enthralled. And to feed my inner derby girl, I read Alex Cohen and Jennifer Barbee’s Down and Derby: The Insider’s Guide to Roller Derby, which, although perhaps not necessarily brilliant, is a fun read for those of us into the sport. But mostly, I’ve been reading memoirs: Jessie Sholl’s Dirty Secret: A Daughter Comes Clean about Her Mother’s Compulsive Hoarding, which I devoured quickly before a Portland trip to loan it to my sister, who devoured it equally as quickly. Then Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress. My Anabaptist Church of the Brethren upbringing brought me into contact with lots of General Conference Mennonites—I knew all the tunes to the church and camp songs to which Janzen referred and I appreciated both her secular perspective and her respect for the church. Then Craig insisted I read (and sent me) Alison Arngrim’s Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love to be Hated, which was surprisingly good—I didn’t even know about the sex abuse part of Arngrim’s life (I do not watch enough TV or read enough celebrity rags, I guess). It was well written and witty and totally kept my interest. I read my neighbor Rich Marantz’s The Way of the Voice of Peace, which is both memoir and philosophy, Rich being an instructor of Tai chi and Qigong. Happily, I liked the book; it is always risky reading the works of people you know and having an opinion. I then picked up Jonathan Ames’s book of essays, I Love You More than You Know, which is raw and gritty and (at least somewhat) autobiographical and captivating. I’d just started reading it when I got the e-mail about the book group selection for the May meeting.

Phyllis chose an out-of-print book published in 1939 called Maud. She had bought nine copies that she could loan out, and others were to be had online. It turns out this is another memoir of sorts, so that got my attention. It’s a journal, actually, a diary of the life of a teenager/young woman in Cairo, Illinois, in the 1880s and 1890s. I told Phyllis I was in, and she left me a copy on her porch on Saturday.

It’s an old Macmillan hardback that physically reminded me of the books of letters I have on my bedroom shelf between George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, and between Shaw and Ellen Terry. But while those musings and yearnings were between adults, this book, so far, is definitely a teenage girl, one, luckily, who can write.

The dust jacket reads:


Her own journal

edited and arranged for publication by

Richard Lee Strout


One of the most intelligent, entrancing, and outrageous little flirts who ever “told all” to her private journal.

It’s 590 pages. Apparently Maud has a lot to say. But I’m in. I can pepper it with Jonathan Ames essays, which will be quite the contrast.

Still on my nightstand? Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (long ago borrowed); Emma Donoghue’s Room (a gift); John Crowley’s Little, Big (a gift); Paul Harding’s Tinkers (a gift); Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw (a gift); Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire; and Billy Collins’s Ballistics. There are probably more books I haven’t read hiding within the shelves of said nightstand.

And I’m not afraid to admit (although perhaps I should be) that I’d really like to read all the Harry Potter books straight through, having read the first three that way and the last four as they were released. My memory for literary detail is not so great, so it would be enjoyable to read them together and maintain the thread.

But it would mean a very long book group break.


1. Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - April 7, 2011

You might enjoy the HP books on MP3 — but the British version, narrated by Stephen Fry (the US version, narrated by Jim Dale, doesn’t hold a candle to them). Immensely engaging, especially while driving.

indigo bunting - April 8, 2011

Alas, I don’t drive enough to keep the thread, I don’t think…and not sure I can afford to get them all! But I’ll keep it in mind. (And I like Jim Dale…but I love Stephen Fry.)

Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - April 8, 2011

I like Dale too, generally (he was wonderful narrating Pushing Daisies), but he was too sweet and cute for HP. Fry was perfection. As for cost, I can, shall we say, get ’em for you wholesale!

2. Dona - April 7, 2011

On interrupting — I doubt you watch the tv show Parenthood, which I love, but you’d hate. Not because of the title but because of the constant interrupting and talking over each other. I cringe during a few of the characters’ interactions.

Room is on my list of book group books — not because I want to read it either.

Maud sounds delightful.

I finally got into The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and am LOVING it. Will probably read the last 100 pages tonight.

indigo bunting - April 8, 2011

Dona—I’ve never seen it but like some of the cast. I wonder if I have the same trouble with interrupting in drama? Not sure I do, if it’s to make dramatic point… Hmmm.

3. Sylvester - April 7, 2011

Quite an impressive amount of reading ahead. Room was a real disappointment for me after all the hype;almost all my lady friends think it is fantastic. They say I don’t like it because I’m a man. That is lame. The child narrator’s language got on my nerves. I guess I’m a snob; I enjoy style.

indigobunting - April 7, 2011

Sylvester: I’ll let you know what I think when I get around to reading it—which, as is obvious, could take awhile. I actually have heard nothing about it. I live in a cave.

4. Bridgett - April 7, 2011

My MIL has a copy of Maud (of course, living in Cairo). Have you read what Dickens had to say about that awful place? If you want an insider’s current view of the place I can make a slide show for you. Eep.

Your list is similar to mine. I read Mennonite, for instance, and liked it quite well. Candy. I’d like to read Prairie Bitch, it’s on my list, and now the hoarding book is too. And roller derby. I think my sister Bevin the burlesque dancer is headed there next…

My life growing up, and now again with 2 adult sisters and a sister-in-law, involves being at relatives’ tables with 9 people, with 6 conversations at once and everyone interjecting into all of them. Mike and Colleen’s Tim just tune us out. Interrupting is part of our life.

indigo bunting - April 8, 2011

B: The book begins with the Dickens quote! And yes, slide show!

I’m not sure I have as much trouble with many conversations around a large dinner table—I think the problem is when it’s supposed to be one conversation. But I’ll bet sometimes I’m a Tim.

5. Bridgett - April 7, 2011

That second to last sentence should read “Mike, and Colleen’s boyfriend Tim…” Mike and Colleen do not together have a Tim.

6. Damyanti - April 7, 2011

Book groups. I’d love to be part of one, partly because I’ve moved and need to be part of a group…but sometimes I wonder how it would affect my reading. I love the list of books you are into.

7. Mali - April 8, 2011

Oh, I loved this. I’m going to note down the books you loved.

Interesting the debate about Room. I did not want to read it, but it was in the bookclub, and so I did, and I gobbled it up in just over a day. It was simply written yes – supposedly told by a 5 year old boy (which was why I didn’t want to read it) – but I thought there were some lovely subtleties in it too.

And Yiddish Policeman’s Union – yes, read it. Very good too!

Craig – I’m assuming you’ve read Stephen Fry’s biographies? I’ve just read the first one, and LOVED it (I love him), and will be downloading no.2 soon.

Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - April 8, 2011

I’ve just finished listening to “Moab Is My Washpot” and plant to start on volume 2 of his memoirs soon. I just love listening to him read. Just this moment I’m listening to an adaptation of the Pooh stories with Fry as Pooh, Jane Horrocks as Piglet, Geoffrey Palmer as Eeyore, and Judi Dench ad the narrator. Wondrous.

indigo bunting - April 8, 2011

“Adaptation”? How is it? You know how I feel about adaptation when it comes to WtP! Damn Disney!

Craig (Maito Sewa Yoleme) - April 8, 2011

It’s marvelous. Every word from the stories (minus such asides as “said Pooh” and “replied Piglet”), but spoken by the characters themselves instead of everything coming from a narrator. And Christopher Robin is a real kid. Pooh’s songs are spoken, not sung, but there’s a sweet little piano accompaniment that suggests how it might be sung. Very clever.

8. Bridgett - April 8, 2011

I will link to my flickr cairo group on my blog soon (tonight most likely)

9. Lali - April 9, 2011

Obviously, I understand what you’re saying about our book group, and have come to agree with most of it. The number of people around the table, to my mind, makes an enormous difference to the quality of the discussion. Things go much better when fewer than ten people attend.

Obviously, I don’t have a solution to this situation.

indigo bunting - April 11, 2011

I know. I just have to learn to think of it as a party, not a book group.

10. helen - April 9, 2011

I’ve been waiting to comment because I didn’t want to interrupt anybody. That does sound like a very large group for a book club. Also, I laughed at the part where you describe your acceptance of the fact that it is first about food, and second (or perhaps even more removed) about books. Doesn’t everything eventually end up that way?

indigo bunting - April 11, 2011


11. LisaS - April 11, 2011

I’ve been wondering about doing a book group. It’s been the style for a while but I’ve never been in one. Then again, I never was a fan of discussing literature in classes I took …

So far as your reading list …

Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (wonderful and funny);John Crowley’s Little, Big (oh, I forgot about that one. loved, loved, loved it way back when. must dig back out and put on my stack); Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire (enjoyed all of those in a light John Grisham kind of way); and Billy Collins’s Ballistics (haven’t read this, but love him)

and HP works well in the audiobook form, though awfully long if you only listen in the car like we do.

I haven’t read anything else you mentioned but have some notion what I’m adding to my list …

12. Donn S. Miller - October 12, 2011

I am a native of Cairo, Illinois, where Isabella Maud Rittenhouse, the diarist of “Maud,” was born and raised. Richard Lee Strout, Maud’s son-in-law and the editor of her diaries, was famous as the creator of “TRB from Washington,” a regular column in, I believe, Harper’s. As her journal drew to a close, she was about to embark on a married life with Dr. Earl Mayne, who would open his own medical clinic in Brooklyn, New York. Toward the end of their lives, they lived in Staten Island. I don’t know when Dr. Mayne passed away, but Maud (sometimes Maude) lived until the middle ’40s. The two are buried in Seaview Cemetery on Staten Island.

indigobunting - October 12, 2011

Donn: Great to hear from you. We read a lot about Maud in book group too, whatever we could get our hands on on the Internet. I completely enjoyed the book. We were reading it during the most recent flooding, as well…

Donn S. Miller - October 13, 2011

Ms. Bunting:

Thank you for your cordial words. Although a native Cairene, I have over the years grown less fond of the town. To me, the straw that broke the camel’s back concerned Maud’s (and my) alma mater, Cairo High School.

From the ’20s until around 1970, C.H.S. was situated in a dignified building very near to the center of town. It was so solidly built that, as I understand, the contractor who contracted to raze it for a set bid amount didn’t realize much profit on the demolition when all was said and done. The demolition commenced when the new building, located on the northernmost extremity of town, was finished. And what a gem of a building! No windows. The bloody place, if not otherwise identified to passersby, might be mistaken for a biological weapons laboratory.

Now comes the sad part of my tale, the reason that Cairo no longer holds a place in my heart. The halls of the older building were festooned with pictures of ask the

13. Donn S. Miller - October 13, 2011

(a continuation of my comment, the first part of which I inadvertantly sent to you due to my oversized digits:)

were festooned with pictures of all the senior classes which had gone out into the world, even if some in them did not graduate. A DECISION WAS TAKEN BY THE SCHOOL BOARD NOT TO CARRY THE PICTURES OVER INTO THE NEW BUILDING, AND THEY ENDED UP IN A LANDFILL!! If they had been casting about for a way to show contempt for all of the alumni and alumnæ of C.H.S., they could not have done better than what they did. Ergo: My lack of affection for Cairo.

I now live about 22 miles north of Cairo, in the house of my late grandparents. I am a retired postal employé — don’t worry, I don’t pack heat — who bicycles, reads, rescues dogs, and other harmless activities.

Say, it occurs to me that I have misused your ‘blog, which is intended for the edification of bibliophiles, to vent. I am sorry, and I assure you that I shall not be hurt if you decide to flush my commentary.

Sail on,
Donn S. Miller

indigo bunting - October 26, 2011

Donn: I completely appreciate your commentary!

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