Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Club Meeting Minutes

Considering the fact that I just got an e-mail reminder about this month's book club meeting--which is this coming Monday (yikes, need to do that reading)--I figured I'd better get in the minutes from last month's (i.e. September's) meeting.

Meeting: September

Book: Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

This meeting, as mentioned previously, was hosted at my mom's house.  Summer finally was starting to make its exit, so she decided to make warm spiced cider and serve donut holes and candy corn (yum).  Also some praline-topped baked brie.  No booze.  I guess she didn't want any alcohol-related brawls--in vino veritas and all that.

Had I read the book?  Well, "skimmed" is more like it.  I just have a hard time getting into stories where it reads like a series of bad things happening to characters that don't really give me a reason to root for them (or maybe even just plain feel sorry for them)--or is it that I'm supposed to feel something for them by the mere occurrence of bad things happening to them all the time?  I don't know.  But in any event, I knew enough to get by in the discussion if not the "discussion questions" (more on those later).

There definitely were more people at this meeting than last time, I think about a dozen people.  What a difference five people can make.  Everyone seemed to like the cider and the food, and even though the praline sauce hardened a bit too quickly, it all got eaten up.  I for one cannot comment on items with cheese as I am allergic, but in general I think when one goes to the extra effort of making something, odds are it will be well-received, as it was at this meeting, especially when people were in the mood for something seasonal.

The most anticipated and/or feared part of the meeting followed right after the greeting and eating: The Format Talk.

Our group organizer--let's call her "Brooke" for ease of reference--had brought a notepad with her to jot down our decisions, I guess.  She sat in a chair that was in front of the fireplace.  To her left (well, not her immediate left because the landing for the steps is there) sat Leona.

"So, I just wanted to check in with everybody to see if they had any thoughts about the format of the book club, if there was anything we wanted to change," said Brooke.

Nobody responded immediately, but eventually someone said she was O.K. with it and most people agreed.

Then Leona started in about how everybody should get a chance to talk, and how she had brought discussion question with her this time.  You know, because she had already read this book for two other book clubs.  So she started pushing for having a moderator for each meeting.  Nobody really responded right away to that, and it was borderline uncomfortable silence.  I think people might have been torn between encouraging Leona (and possibly making her the moderator) by agreeing and getting on her bad side by disagreeing.  As a result, the discussion circled back to the duties of the organizer, and while Brooke said she had no intention of leaving her post as organizer, she suggested that the hostess for each particular meeting be the moderator.  

Nobody objected, at least aloud.  I kept quiet, although--my take?  I think having a moderator, especially for a group as small as ours, interferes with the organic development of the book discussion.  This idea of "everyone must talk" and answering prepared questions (as opposed to someone's posing a question that had arisen during her reading or in response to the reading) just goes against everything I believe in as an educator and just generally a person who recognizes that everyone's different and not all people have something to say at every single meeting.  It might be a classic extrovert/introvert misunderstanding.

So, why did I not speak up?  I often think I'm in the minority, especially as someone who feels on the fringes of this club--more of an auditor, if you will--so I'm not going to introduce an idea that's going to be met with that uncomfortable silence because no one wants to hurt my feelings.  Also, honestly, as much as I wasn't looking forward to talking about the book, I wanted this part of the meeting to end as quickly as possible.

Which it did, with the declaration that this change in format would occur the next time around.

This time, Leona did the leading, question printouts in hand.  Actually, she was fairly pleasant as the moderator, probably because it suits her, and also her extreme familiarity with the book contributed.  

The discussion got unpleasant at times because it ventured into discussions of fistulas (ugh but the medical people in our group were into it), abortions, and FGM (double ugh).  My question was my curiosity regarding the audience: Did those among our group who liked this book also enjoy medical dramas/melodramas on TV, like "Grey's Anatomy"?  Interestingly, the answer was no.  That result surprised me, and ultimately I still did not understand why the majority of the group enjoyed the book so much.  

And yes, I did voice my opinion that I didn't enjoy the book, but I merely said it wasn't my cup of tea.  It was just too sad and I'm still not crazy about reading medical stuff because my cat has cancer.  I don't personally find books full of tragedy and angst all that moving--not that I'm saying a book has to be full of sunshine and good news, but this idea that life is just a series of bad things that fall on hapless humanity is just so. . . I don't know, nihilistic or something.

Anyway, the good news--sort of--was that our next meeting would be around Halloween time, and the hostess for that meeting said she wanted a scary-ish read.  I had something in mind, but I couldn't remember the full title and wasn't able to describe it well enough, so off I went to my parents' computer upstairs (in what was once my bedroom for a few years after my brother moved out).

And of course while I was waiting for the slow-moving dinosaur desktop computer to get me the information I wanted, the conversation continued downstairs and a decision was made.  They were repeating the details when I was walking down the steps.

Oh, well.  They tend not to like my suggestions, anyway.  As a side note, after the meeting, the group got an e-mail from Brooke saying that someone had given the "great" idea of e-mailing around future book selection suggestions ahead of the next meeting, the point being that people could "research" them in advance.  Yeah. . . nobody did that this time around.  I do have an idea and I might send it around, just to see if anyone pans it outright.  Or if they'll wait until the meeting.

So, next meeting's reading is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, which definitely sounds like something you read in the dark to scare yourself.  I have been woefully behind with everything on my to-read list--to the point of owing $3.00 in fines on overdue books! Even librarians miss due dates! We work hard!--so I haven't gotten to it yet.  I guess I'd better do that soon.

Mom and I were joking about dressing up in goth outfits to please our hostess.  Hmm, I should check with her to see if she still wants to do that.  Those costume stores might still be open with their clearance sales.  Maybe we can find some gothic wigs.

Our gung-ho participation might just win us votes for the next book selection. 



Sunday, September 4, 2011

And Further Confusion

Ultimately, the club organizer sent out a message declaring the book club meeting postponed to September 19.  I did not see any further correspondence about it, and I assumed that every member had agreed.  You know, without hitting "Reply All."

Last Monday, the original date of the meeting, I had joined my parents for dinner at their house to visit a while with my oldest nephew, whom Mom had taken shopping for back-to-school clothes.  "There's someone at the door," he told me shortly after we'd cleared the table and Mom was finishing up in the kitchen.  I went to the door and saw one of the book club members who lived across the street and down from Mom and Dad.  I realized at the same time that it was seven o'clock and that the dreaded book was in her hands.

"Book club is tonight, isn't it?" she asked as I opened the door.  I could see the confusion in her eyes as she scanned the living room and found it empty.  Not to mention only half-painted a lovely blue on the side where the piano resided.

"Actually, it got moved to next month--September 19th," I said.  "Did you see the e-mail?"

Shaking her head with a bit of a sheepish laugh, she replied, "No, I never read my e-mail."  Facebook has killed e-mail, I thought to myself, but I couldn't figure out how else she would know what was going on with the group, unless she talked to other neighbor-members--something less likely to happen recently as a lot of people go on vacation at the end of August.

Honestly, I felt bad she had made arrangements to be there that night, and the thought of her turning right around and going right home to dissolve her "night out" seemed unfair.  So I grabbed Mom and we stood on the front porch chatting for a bit about the book.  She said she liked it, and cared for it far more than the book she had been reading for another group, A Visit from the Goon Squad.  (I looked at it in Target last Friday while browsing books until my sister and my cousin were ready to go; I see how the changing perspectives could annoy readers.)  After a few minutes, I excused myself to spend a little more time with my nephew.

So I guess we will see her again on the 19th. . . at which point in time I will have read the club's selection.  I can't put it off for much longer- Ooh! What's that? Another cat mystery

How did I get hooked on those?


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mass Confusion = Reprieve?

Well, well, well.  All of a sudden, talk of postponing next week's meeting has popped up.

Maybe people were enjoying their summer too much to haul around the ol' required reading.  Me, I was just avoiding it.

The tiny but lovely readership of this blog may recall that my mom offered to host.  The poor dear actually rushed to paint the downstairs ahead of some family obligations that commenced mid-month, and while unfortunately the walls were not cooperative, it gives that nice added conversation piece of a work in progress.  Now that there is talk of postponement into September, the club will have to face the fact that Mom already made plans with certain days--like days the painters are coming--some of which happen to be Mondays.  

Our club organizer sent an e-mail asking for members to reply with availability.  Enter the flurry of responses via the dreaded "Reply All" button.  (Yeah, I know some members want to know what everyone says; me, I'd rather you just collect the responses and tell me what the new date is.)

One of the non "Reply All" users hit reply to the response my mom sent as future hostess explaining her limited availability in September.  Mom forwarded it to me because it was a bit puzzling.

Guess the mysterious author of the reply.  I'll give you a hint.  Her response included the phrases: "Great to talk to you," "you'll be ok [sic]," and "love you!"

I was a little puzzled, too, if that helps you any.


Monday, August 15, 2011

I Joined a Book Club and All I Got Was Drama, Part II

(Be sure to read Part I before continuing to read here.)

Already on the phone, she had hemmed and hawed about my "price" for computer tutoring, to the point where I said, "I don't care, bake me a pie, bartering works for me." Lady, don't say you don't know where to set a price, then make me give you an idea (what I earned as a tutor at school), and then start babbling as if I'd asked for a million bucks.

It was all for naught, anyway, because I realized two things: One, I'd skipped over this version of Office as I went from job to job; two, Jolene's idea of "helping her with her computer" and my idea did not quite match.

Me: So if you want to clean up your mailbox, just go to "Tools" in the menu bar and-
Jolene: [shaking her head and throwing up her hands] Wait, wait, wait!
Me: ?
Jolene: You have to give me more time. I'm not getting it. [sighs, keeps shaking her head and cringing]
Me: ? [to myself: Um, should I not have assumed she has a basic understanding of the program she uses to get her e-mail every single day?]

And that was red flag #2, after she had taken issue with my use of the word "purge" with respect to cleaning up old e-mail. I'll let you guess what got overshared there. (Sometimes, I really wish my embarrassment would make me run rather than stay.)

I think she really had no intention of learning any more about the program, and wanted me to "fix" whatever was bothering her and set things up the way she wanted them. I wish she had spelled that out from the beginning, but then again, I never would have said yes, would I?

Then there was a whole e-mail archiving fiasco because, as I tried to tell her, I was not really familiar with this version of Office. We ran a search for e-mail more than about six months old, her choosing, not mine. I could see from the location labels that the majority were actually in her Deleted Items file, but apparently the file had never been emptied. EVER. Due to some bug in the system, our attempt to move all the old e-mail into a newly created folder wound up placing them all as attachments in a new e-mail. I still have no idea why, but stupid me canceled the e-mail with what I thought were copy attachments. . .

They weren't, according to every forum I searched. Oooops. And while I struggled to get them back, Jolene was making smoothies in a blender and of course offering some to me. When I asked if there was dairy in it, she snorted a laugh. That pissed me off, frankly. Then came the question that always annoys me: "Oh, are you lactose intolerant, too?" "No, I'm actually allergic," I responded. She assures me it's "just strawberries." Still, I politely declined, saying I just had lunch at Mom and Dad's and water is fine. She sets a glass down next to me, anyway. It's pink with flecks of green in it. Again, being polite and going against my better judgment, I took a sip. Between my mixed feelings about strawberries and both the texture and the taste of the green bits, one sip was more than enough.

At that point, I was ready to go home, or at least back to my parents'.  I decided to try the honest route, secretly hoping it would enrage her that I'd lost all those e-mails and she'd show me the door.

"Well, can you call Microsoft?" she demanded, somewhat naively. I did not think so, but I had to make a show of actually doing it while she sat outside eating her lunch. I was starting to get a headache, and I thought it was from stress and frustration. When she came back in, she asked me if I'd tried the smoothie, and I told her I'd taken a sip but it really wasn't for me. That's when she told me she put parsley and protein powder in it. The minute she said "protein powder" my heart sank, because there are a lot of protein powders out there sans lactose but still containing milk. Ugh. My headache sharpened, and I still had no answer Jolene would accept that would make her release me.

Next, I had to call the nice computer guy at the place where I had taken my defunct laptop the day before--he looked up the same answers I did. Then, Jolene put me on the phone with her son, who lives in another part of the state and probably picked up his work phone only because his grandma was in the hospital. Other than a shared laugh at his crack that "those e-mails probably needed to 'go to God' ages ago," we still came up with nothing.

So at last, she accepted that the e-mails were gone, but she still wouldn't let me go. I was feeling awful--in retrospect, I realize it was an allergic reaction--but in the moment all I knew was that I couldn't stop feeling bad and I wanted to cry. And that's when Jolene got under my skin and made some comment about my summer, and I was like, "Everything's wrong, my cat's sick, I've put on grief weight, and I have a million things to do before school starts."

While I might have been mad at myself for letting that slip out, I was even madder when she responded, "You sound depressed." I hate sidewalk psychiatry. It always seems as if people who have been through whatever feel they have ability to see the same things wrong with other people, when in truth a lot of times it's just imposition in the attempt to have something in common and be friends. It's the companion to oversharing.

Somehow, I was able to start the discussion about my departure. I started to tell her that I was willing to waive my fee for the day because I'd made the mistake. . . and then she interrupts me, saying that I really didn't tutor her anyway and that she expected to have some real tutoring next time. At which point I underscored my ineligibility to tutor her, because I did not know enough about the applications, but she just brushed that aside oddly by saying that the only other tutor she had found who could do it was charging $60. (She didn't even want to pay me half that!) With even more frustration making my head boil, I managed to wrap up the conversation by telling her just to call me if she wanted to set anything else up. (I figured that gave her time to get distracted and forget.)

I left the house, but not before helping her push the leaves in her dining room table back in place. As soon as I got back to my parents', I grabbed two aspirin and some iced tea. I spared my mom most of the details, but I said, "Never again." I wound up going home for some antihistamines and sleeping for an hour to shake off the headache and whatever else had hit me.

Friday, an e-mail shows up from her. She wants to drop off a check but doesn't know my address.

First reaction: What!?
Second reaction: No!!!

The remainder of the e-mail is thanking me for being so "open" and she wants to help with my "big D." The only "D" I mentioned was "Diverticulitis" but I'm afraid she means "Depression." There's a doc attached to the e-mail and it's labeled her "story," which I'm guessing she uh, shares in order to sell her supplements.

You hear that sucking noise?

I'm running the other way.

I responded by saying that no payment was necessary. I did not say anything else. I haven't gotten a response yet. I'm almost hoping to keep her at bay via e-mail. But if she shows up at the next book club meeting, I'm trapped.

Or maybe Leona will create a diversion.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I Joined a Book Club and All I Got Was Drama, Part I

Lately I have been questioning the point of book clubs. Do people join them to read more books, to talk about books and reading, to learn about new titles that might be interesting to read, to meet people? All of the above? None of the above?

Since joining this book club, I have read a total of three books (in their entirety, I think) and part of a couple books--not to mention the one title I did not read at all. And no, I have not started the one for this month yet. . . although I was startled to open the local Catholic newspaper this week and find an article featuring a discussion with the author. (Presupposing "an audience that doesn't believe in anything" doesn't do much to up the interest factor for me.)

Aside from getting acquainted with some of the new neighbors in my parents' neighborhood and some of their friends, and re-meeting some people I haven't seen since I delivered their newspaper, the only extended communications I've had with members have been with the strange ones. Honestly, I must be magnet for the drama people.

Like Leona.

And now, "Jolene."

Jolene hosted a couple meetings ago--The Other Wes Moore, a meeting I didn't get the chance to recap here. (I am pretty sure someone tried to call my mom racist during that meeting, too.) And then Jolene was the one pushing people to move the June meeting and attend her event in its originally scheduled place. If you read to the bottom of that post, you'll see that she also was pushing to introduce me to her son but didn't quite know now.

All that stuff going at once makes your head swim, doesn't it? That's what happens when you get involved with Jolene. She sells nutritional supplements. She talks about meditation and going on retreat. Don't get her started about her ex-husband. Oh, and she feels perfectly free to ask you about things she wants you to do for her that sound mutually beneficial but really aren't.

At the beginning of the summer, I was able to fend off the offer of a summer job organizing her business files and papers. It's not really my thing, and I really did not want an intimate view of her business--they say don't mix business with friends, and I was trying to keep her firmly in the "book club friend" category.

But when she called sounding desperate for help with a computer problem, well, those pleas are just too hard to resist. Adding to the allure was the offer to pay me at a time when my little summer job had ended just the week before. (And the air conditioning in the car broke, twice. . . and the cat's special medicine cost twice as much as the other medicine. . . ) I was going away for the weekend, but she pinned me down to the Monday morning after.

Monday morning came, and it took several series of knocks to get her to answer the door. She hid behind it, and I could tell she was half-dressed. Should I have called first? I wondered.

It turned out, she said as she apologized for her forgetfulness, that her elderly mother needed to go to the ER. I understood, I told her, and added that she could just get in touch me with whenever, to set up a new date and time. She already started talking about Wednesday, and I just kind of nodded, figuring it was subject to change.

Well, Tuesday morning, she called. First, we talked about Wednesday. Afternoon, I pleaded, because I had errands to run. (The errands wound up scrapped for a favor to my parents, as the plumber was scheduled to come at a time when both would be out.) However, once we settled that, she started talking about how difficult her mother was but she needed to visit her in the hospital this afternoon. Her brother was tied up but she could really use someone to go with her. I was silent.

Um, me?

Yeah, she asked me to go with her--you know, experience her difficult mother firsthand and act as a support/hand-holder/shield/diversion. Again, BOUNDARIES. "I'm sorry, I already have plans for today," I said. Which I did, but even if I didn't, the plans to save my sanity were in play at the least.

The following day--where of course the plumber showed up three minutes after my dad walked in the door--I ate lunch at my parents' and walked to Jolene's house. I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't cross my mind that things would be canceled again without my knowledge. But she answered the door, and while I can forgive the disorganization that comes with having a family member in the hospital, she had absolutely nothing arranged for me to sit with her or look at her computer or whatever it was that she wanted me to do.

Which I still wasn't clear about.

To be continued. . .

Friday, August 12, 2011

Attack of the Overreaching Book Club Member

Not Leona. Somebody else. Someone who is, well, a little too eager to jump over boundaries, and now the only option is to reestablish them, I guess. I'll say more later, but let me start with this: If I weren't making so little money, I never would have entertained her initial offer of what I thought was giving her a simple computer tutorial.

I wound up coming home with a migraine that day, and now I have an e-mail in my in-box containing an attachment sharing her "story."


Stay tuned. . .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Book Has Not Moved from the Passenger Seat of My Car

Mom blew through Cutting for Stone in a weekend (650 pages!) because she "wanted to get it over with." Whereupon Monday she handed it back to me.

I have absolutely no desire to crack it open.

Maybe I'm dreading the next meeting; definitely the premise of the book is not speaking to me.

Our previous meeting's hostess just sent around a photo of the new baby, prompting a lot of addressees to hit "Reply All" (ugh) and (1) coo over the baby (all right, but really do we all need to hear 20 people say "Congratulations!" to someone else?) and (2) offer some comment about the book. Most recent was a gushing "loved it, can't put it down, may reread before we meet" reply-all.

I gagged.

Mom said it was the perfect comment because then that person could do all the (more than four or five sentences) talking.


Monday, June 27, 2011

My Response --Now UPDATED with response to response

Hi, [Leona],

I appreciate your honesty and I think my mom would, too. She respects you a lot so I think she would be very understanding if you address this concern directly with her. If you prefer to call her, her phone number is [...]. (She's out of town until Wed. though.)

That said, if you think that it might be more of a benefit to the group to ensure that no one person in general would "dominate" a discussion, maybe--and I don't know if it's worth proposing to [friend's name] because she is the book club coordinator?--at the top of the next meeting we could take a few minutes to decide as a group on a few rules that might help everyone be more at ease.

Just my thoughts.

UPDATE (9:27 p.m.): I've been avoiding my e-mail since I sent it, but about an hour after I replied, Leona sent the response below. . . my comments in bold.

Ok. Let's try your idea [I assume she means my brilliant "save it for group" idea]. I don't know her well enough to say anything [uh, TO HER FACE, anyway!] and would not want to hurt her feelings ["at least not directly which was why I was trying to foist it off on her daughter"].

Let's see how it goes. It should be fun [on what planet is creating rules to prevent people talking too much FUN!?]. Thx [she doesn't mean that, either].

She was probably shooting daggers with her eyes at the screen while she was typing that.

Well, then, I am just going to let this marinate among her and whoever constitutes the "we" of her previous ignorant e-mail, and see what happens at the next meeting. (I've got you all on the hook for that, now, don't I?) It's not until the end of AUGUST. And you may recall that my mom (she of the five plus sentences) is hosting.

Oh, can they really keep it contained for that long?

Stay tuned, kiddies.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

From the Living Room to the Schoolyard

So, late in the evening on the day after our book club met, an e-mail appeared in my in-box. It was from someone in the book club group, somebody I really do not know well--she came into the group via someone else, and is not a "neighborhood" resident although her home is pretty close to the 'hood--but is a pretty easy character to read, at least in my opinion. I'll call her "Leona" for ease of reference.

Don't get me wrong: Leona is smart, she loves her kids and provides well for them. She must be likeable in some way, because she's friends with someone else in the group.

But OH MY GOSH the attitude.

The "I'm in two other book groups" attitude. The "I work in medicine so I know a lot" attitude. The "I know a lot so no one should debate me" attitude. The "I don't want to hear from you if you don't agree with me" attitude.

The one that made her eyes shoot daggers at my mom when Mom got a little caught up in what Leona was saying and wanted to dialogue but accidentally interrupted her (because she was not done what she was going on about).

Yeah, that one.

Therefore, I knew that the real subject line should have read "Warning! Drama Enclosed" but I read it anyway.

It was too good not to share. My comments in bold.

[...G]ood seeing you last night. Thx for bringing your book ideas [that really don't coincide with anything anybody else wants to read].

I am reaching out to you in confidence
[yeah, right--the first rule of book club is that there are no secrets in book club] because we [I'm sorry--where did "we" come from all of a suddent? I saw no cc's on this e-mail, and BTW who died and made you club president?] wanted to ask your help in guiding your mom a bit during the book club. [Say what?] Your mom is so smart [yeah, shockingly so for a homemaker, huh?] and we all love her [again, who is this "we" and why do I sense a "BUT" coming on?] and she has a lot to say, which is important.

But [Aha!] it is hard for all of us to have a discussion because she ends up dominating most conversations
[Excuse me--"most"? You weren't even here last time!] and continues to have more [have more what? crackers?] when others are sharing. Last night it became uncomfortable for most. [Again, who? Was there a secret follow-up meeting?] That's why I called on people later. [Yeah, being put on the spot is SO not uncomfortable at all!]

Is there any way that you
[ME!?] could advise her to be mindful of this. Usually the first 4-5 sentences are perfect, meaningful, insightful-but she goes on and on after that. [Wait, wait, wait--you are counting her SENTENCES? Is there a limit I don't know about?] Should we give her a 1 minute hour glass [!!! (I have no words)] or can you nudge her [WTF? You mean I have to sit next to her and assault her at every freaking meeting from now on?] after a few sentences?

Please let me know your thoughts and if I am off base.
[Oh, absolutely, because you'd take that so well.]

My blood was boiling a bit after I read that. Fortunately, my first reaction was a good one: I closed it and walked away.

I still have not answered it, as I have been mulling over my options.

Option 1: Say nothing. I do not want to dignify this whacko e-mail with a response.

Option 2: Tell her that she's putting me in an awkward position and to leave me out of it.
I mean, how would she like it if I walked up to her daughter and said, "Kid, I don't like the way your mom talks to people; would you tell her to back off? Oh, but that didn't come from me"?

Option 3: Play completely dumb.
"Gee, Leona, if there's a problem with people talking too long, maybe you could talk to [the club coordinator who I think is the friend who brought her in] about establishing a moderator for each meeting, and maybe the group should propose and agree on some rules."

Option 4: Tell her she is "off base" and immature for singling out one person and then not having the huevos to tell that person directly that she has a problem with that person.
After which I would declare, "I quit!" because I don't have time for passing notes in the schoolyard.

Our next meeting is not until the end of August, but here's the most fabulous twist ever:

My mom volunteered to host it.

I guess Leona would just want her to stay in the kitchen where she belongs, then.

June Book Club in Summary

Well, I went to the book club meeting without having finished the book--partly because I was a little too hooked on 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and partly because I really was avoiding a book that talked a lot about cancer (sad about my cat's recent bout with cancer) and described the awful plight of an indigent black family (just sad all over). Some of the questions went over my head, obviously, and some things were revealed that I hadn't read yet. I wouldn't claim "spoilers," just because it's my own fault that I did not finish.

I would note that this is not the first time I went without having finished a selected book. One time, they assigned two books, and I just could not devote any time or interest to the second one (The Thirteenth Tale), so I skimmed it. It was totally "meh" to me, although it turned out to be a favorite among a fair proportion of the group.

The highlights:

--Our hostess' house was really interesting--I mean, it's similar in basic layout to most of the other houses in my parents' neighborhood (my parents' being slightly different because the front door and garage are reversed, so the living room is sideways and not longways)--there was a lot of cool art on the living room walls. Some was photography and some was painting.

--As we were getting our beverages (me: wine) in the dining room, we observed a dry-erase board propped up on a side table with the headings "Boy" and "Girl." There's going to be a new baby in the house next month, so the board contained a bunch of name ideas. They already have a daughter, but they chose not to find out early if the new baby will be a son or a daughter. My mom put in a plug for her name. Happens every time. (Well, she was named after somebody.)

--I got to show off my Kindle a little bit. One thing I did realize as I was discussing the pros and cons with one of the other club members is that it's much easier to leave a paperback on the front seat of your car (guilty, just about 24/7) than a Kindle ("Steal me!" it screams).

--One of our club members who made it that night is a nurse (we actually have two nurses in the group) and another one is a biologist (I think) so it was interesting to get their take on medical rights and privacy.

--The wine was refreshing.

The not-so-highlights:

--This was a rescheduled meeting, and a lot of people could not make it--as they could not make the other date, anyway, as many people's schedules go haywire when summer comes. We had seven people, and usually it runs around ten to twelve (or more).

--Obviously, when there are fewer people, it's a bit more noticeable who are the talkers and who are the listeners. Unless I'm fired up about something or really feel I can contribute, I fall more in the listener category. I don't mind hearing other people talk.
Maybe it's the librarian in me, but I really enjoy listening to other people talk about something they've read, and how it made them think, and what it made them think about.

--However, I could tell that one particular person was getting agitated by the the fact that someone else talked as much as she did. (I guess there's room for only one of those in each group?) I'll get into the fallout in my next post. As a reaction to her own irritation, she took it upon herself to "go around the room" and make- I mean, give each person the opportunity to say something about the book.
Again, maybe this is the teacher-librarian in me, but it feels wrong to force people to talk. Kills the dialogue and spontanaeity. Yeah, that's it.

--I wound up having to go back to retrieve my purse after walking back to my parents' house. I think I had set it on the floor to make more room on the sofa for other people, and then it was out of sight, out of mind for the rest of the night. (I did get an introduction to the hostess' husband at that time, which was a nice thing.)

Our next selection--and when I say "our" I mean the book they chose after rejecting the three titles I suggested--is Cutting for Stone.

Looks like another uplifting read!

And more medical stuff. What is it with all the medical stuff!?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just When I Thought I Had Plenty to Report. . .

Oh, there is so much to say about last night's meeting. Even with just seven people in attendance.

But wait! It gets better!

This afternoon, one of the members who was present last night sent me a follow-up e-mail. She has a problem, and it's not with me.

Yet, she is asking me to solve it.

I have to think of a diplomatic way to refuse to be dragged into it.

Honestly, if the selection of yet another depressing story isn't enough to make me quit, this issue just might be.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Club Tomorrow

As of right now, I am on Chapter 19. I might be reading all night and all day tomorrow so I can finish.

It's not a bad read, but it is a little depressing. O.K., a lot depressing. This woman dies of cancer in the '50s--a horrible death, because there weren't that many options to treat cancer, her cancer was very aggressive, and she got second-rate treatment because she was black and medicine was very segregated. The use and reproduction of some of her cancerous tissue started out as innocent sharing for research, and I'm getting to the point in the story where mass production is making money off it. Outrageous stuff.

I already did not want to read about cancer because my cat was diagnosed with cancer at the end of April and it's been rough going.

Definitely don't want to bring that up at the meeting tomorrow night. I probably won't have to. This is so racially charged that I'm sure someone will get fired up about something. And by someone I mean many of the usual characters. We will be missing some members because some people disappear for the summer, beach houses and whatnot. I will miss my librarian friend and mentor because she is traveling.

Our hostess this time around is pretty pregnant with baby #2 so this probably is her last appearance for a while. She's gonna have her hands full.

They tell us to bring suggestions for the next read. I want something upbeat.

I was going to suggest Sugar Queen which two people from school told me they liked, or The Happiness Project. I also just read about My Year with Eleanor, but I don't know if that one or Happiness will work.

After the My Fair Lazy fiasco, which someday when I get over the trauma I will relate, I'm thinking these people don't like memoirs much.

Or maybe they don't like funny people's memoirs that much.

I honestly can't tell.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Meeting in Flux

I just put The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on my Kindle (this is my first title on the Christmas gift I haven't used yet). . . and now that I'm picking up e-mail after not having checked in during a hectic last week of school, I'm seeing that there is a movement to change Monday's book club night. There are moms saying that this is the only week between school and camp so they are taking vacation (no comment but this kid who never went to camp is rolling her eyes a little--I know, sorry, working moms), and other people saying there are other things going on.

It would be fine by me. I've had a hectic last week of school, including battles a miserable cold and a heat wave, so extra time to read would be helpful.
The problem is that one of the members is pushing for everyone to attend an event she arranged for that night (that's why she and one other won't make it). She called me and I was polite but non-committal. Frankly, I'd rather stay in and turn in early. I'm just exhausted and I don't want to get sick again.

Of course, her real purpose for calling was that she wants to introduce me to her son. I think he's younger than I am, but that's not really an issue for me. But oh, there are issues for sure. Like it's just weird to be introduced to the son of one of your parents' neighbors. If it goes badly, it's awkward. If it goes well, it's just as fraught with awkwardness and boundary issues. And I won't even get into the man-hater vibe I seem to get from her, but maybe she just hates his dad. Which is a whole other thing to worry about. But, as I told her, life's too short not to be open-minded to things.

In response, she said great. . . then, "How do people set up blind dates?" I said I don't really know, but I like coffee. Hint taken.

I think it pretty much is settled that the meeting will not be tomorrow. A good thing for me, because I'm still trying to finish another book that's due back at the library tomorrow.

I'm out of renewals.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Before the May Book Club Meeting

I know, I didn't talk about the last meeting. Mom bailed to go to some Lenten activity at church. We met at the house of the neighbor across and a few houses over from my parents'. I hadn't been in it probably since high school, when I was babysitting the previous owners' kids.

Man, that family was really strange. I could never put my finger on it exactly, but there was something off about the mother. The first time she asked me to babysit, she wound up calling me close to an hour before the time she'd told me and demanded I get over there now.
How else was she going to make her appointment? I think she flaked out and told me to come at the exact time of her appointment. Had she never arranged for babysitting before? Her kids were something like four and two years old at the time. Oh, the two-year-old. To this day I have not seen an uglier child. I know it's unkind to say that, but I really hope she outgrew that smushed Cabbage Patch Kid look. The other bizarre thing is that they got a puppy at the same time they were trying to sell their house. When we heard that during one of the showings, the poor puppy--tied out on the porch to be out of the way, I guess--hanged itself, we were all strangely unsurprised.

And secretly relieved for the puppy.

I'm sorry; where was I? Oh, right--the present neighbors' house. I moved out about ten years ago, but I'm at my parents' pretty often. . . you'd think the hostess's husband would've recognized me. Nope! That felt completely non-awkward and great for my self-esteem. He's not the most outgoing person, however.

We sat in the sitting area at the back of the house, an addition they'd put on along with an expansion of the kitchen. I think my parents and the house down the street that's being sold now that the original owner passed are the only two houses left in the neighborhood that have the original size (i.e. tiny) kitchen. It's a nice sitting area--I think it had ambient speakers or something--with a high ceiling and (IIRC) a skylight or two.

I think most people liked the book--maybe didn't like the Hallmark feel of it at times, but overall liked its readability and variety. We also had to clear up some confusion about the end of the book about who ended up with whom. I'm not sure why there was confusion about that, personally, because it was fairly simple and straightforward writing.

Of course, the talk about the book led to food talk. The person who became the May host and is now sort of stalking me, enhancing the
hostage feel--more on that in another post) decided it would be nice to go around the room and talk about our own "essential ingredients." I wish I had the guile to just say something inane, but no, I never do. I had to talk about my food allergies. I'm such a weirdo. I hate talking about it, really.

We also wound up talking about co-ops and deliveries from local farms. The new-age sphynx-cat-breeder was trying to coordinate being a drop-off addition (the others in the area are not close by) but she had to recruit enough people to join in. Never heard much more about that afterwards. All that talk made me wistful; I remember getting those good local veggies and stuff from the high school where I worked last year as part of occupational training for special education students.

The only other two things I remember from that meeting: (1) There was an apple-scented candle burning that everyone liked. (2) the family cat, a sweet, fluffy little orange thing with a wee meow, came out--through the cat cut-out in the basement door!--after pretty much everyone left. She meowed back when I talked to her, as she sashayed on her tiny feet around the dining room.

I walked back to my car, which was parked in front of my parents' still-dark house, and drove home.

Next book: The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

(Edited to correct formatting)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Time Has Flown. . .

. . . and another Book Club meeting is practically upon me, even though I haven't gotten to talk about the last one yet!

I'm around page 100 or so of The School of Essential Ingredients (for some reason I keep thinking it is the Kitchen of Essential Ingredients) and it's, well, readable. A little heavy on the imagery and metaphors again for me, but it's an interesting narrative in that it uses third person POV centered on a different character each chapter. It's true at least for me that when a bunch of people get together for something like a class, there can arise some curiosity about how they got there.

Oh, and the stuff the chef-teacher Lillian makes sounds delicious. Like lick-the-page delicious.

Monday, March 7, 2011

An In-Between Post

I'm still sorting out all the events from the February meeting--including (gasp!) Midwestern stereotypes and commentary from the "bitter divorcee' gallery"--and I haven't started on our next book, which is The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister. My copy is a loan from Mom, who picked it up at a bookstore.

Maybe by the time the next meeting comes, I'll have the Kindle up and running (I know, sad that I got it for Christmas and it's still in the box), but I don't have money to spend on books right now, anyway.

In fact, as she pressed this month's selection into my hand, she said, "Save your money for books you really want." I don't think she was implying this book is bad in any way; it's just that it's different when you buy books because you chose them and want them, and not because you have to read them for a meeting with bitter divorcees and New Age sphynx cat breeders.

O.K., O.K.--there's only one New Age sphynx cat breeder in the group.

And I am dying to get invited over to pet the kitties! I want to know if they feel like peaches. Or nectarines.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It's Book Club Day

I am two discs shy of finishing The Corrections. I might take the book club advice from Date Night (which had only a couple of funny moments to me) and read "the first thirty pages and the last page" of The Thirteenth Tale. My mom said I wasn't missing much and she liked The Corrections more.

The Corrections is, ultimately, an observation of a family whose members are living out the results of some really bad choices. My audio bookmark is at the point where the sister has broken up a family by sleeping with both the wife and the husband. She seems really messed up. But an excellent chef, apparently.

Oh, and the father is very ill and seems to be hallucinating that he is being taunted by an evil piece of poo.

If that's the kind of writing that gets an author acclaimed, I might as well throw away my unfinished efforts and start over.

Anyway, I will be taking my opinions and some book recommendations to the meeting tonight. Angela recommended a few that looked interesting, including a short read which might be very agreeable after this recent doubling-up.

I'll let you know what all goes down. Including whether or not it will be snowing when we finish, as predicted by the current weather forecast!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Book 1, Disc 3

O.K., I'm up to the third disc of The Corrections. I'm starting to get the idea about the theme of corrections.

Disc 2 talked about a proposed drug called "Correct-All" (at least that's how I think it's spelled, and yes, there is some talk about how it sounds like a certain other drug) whose formula originated in a long-ago patented formulation by the patriarch character.

I'd guess I'm about a third of the way through Disc 3, and there's a flashback to when the two now-adult sons were younger, and there's a comment that their desire to throw their arms around their father's legs upon his return from a business trip had been "corrected out of them." Sad.

Now I'm slogging through what I hope is the tail end of the flashback, where the younger son was left at the dinner table all night because he refused to eat his dinner. There's this long crazy equation of the unappealing food with his life, and all I could think was, "Come on! The kid's in first grade!"

This story seems to be growing in sadness the more I wade into it.

Also, I can't wait to bring up the "spouses resent each other" topic with all the married/divorced members in the group.

That oughta be good for at least ten minutes of discussion.

Monday, February 7, 2011

February's Book 1

Due to a miscommunication about January's reading, for our next meeting we are required to have read not one but two books.

The first book--the one some people accidentally read for January--is The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. I remembered reading a review of his latest novel and feeling a bit apprehensive, but book club requirements are book club requirements. (I'm not one of those people who can fake having read a book unless I'm booktalking to a bunch of kids.)

Sometimes I find that if I'm wary of a book, or not willing to devote my full literary attention to it, I borrow it on audio from the library. That's what I did with all three books in the Hunger Games trilogy. I run a Walkman CD player through my car's tape deck and listen as I drive. It's about a half hour to school in the morning, and usually longer to get home, between rush hour and any errands diverting my route home.

That's right: I'm a grown-up who stills likes someone to read to me every once in a while.

It took a long time to get through Disc 1 (of nine) of The Corrections, partly because I had to put the radio on to listen to the news as I traveled in bad weather frequently this past week. Now I'm at the top of Disc 2. The actor (award-winning Dylan Baker) who reads it is very expressive, and while he doesn't make his voice really weird to be the voices of the female characters, he has a way of distinguishing them and their mannerisms that is kind of charming and very entertaining.

So far I don't hate it. It's not really my cup of tea in terms of the frequent talk of disordered things like affairs between professors and students, drug experimentation, and the like as if they are normal, everyday things. (I'll have more to say about that later.) But it's got colorful characters, some of whom I'm starting to like or at least take an interest in, and some neat turns of phrases. The story's getting going.

At least, I think it is.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Say I Joined, but Really I Had No Choice

If you lament to your mother that you can't seem to find any places to make friends often enough, eventually she will talk you into coming to her neighbor's book club.

A half hour into the meeting, you're accepting the offer of a refill on your wine glass to take the edge off the bombardment of "girl talk"--or rather the talk of married/divorced women my age and older. Including Mom.

After we talk about the book for about five to ten minutes, of course.

* * * *

I'll get into the more specific details of how I came to join the Neighborhood Book Club in the next post, but for now here's the gist of why I started this blog:

1. I like to read and I like talking about books I've read.

2. Book clubs make people read books they probably would never read in a million years--at least, in my case it is true. (So get ready for some rants and hopefully a few "pleasantly surprised" admissions.)

3. The Twist: I am the only single, never-married woman in the group. (And possibly the youngest but I can't confirm without point-blank asking everyone).

4. The Sub-Twist: Most of the members live in my parents' neighborhood--i.e., my childhood home. And a few members are longtime residents. (Prepare for some awkward moments.)

So, pour yourself a nice beverage, pull out your library card, your Amazon account, or your Kindle, and stay tuned for reading notes, meeting minutes, and all the surrounding drama/hilarity/insanity.

Because there will be some of each at every month's meeting.