I’ve been table hopping book clubs for a while now, seeking the right fit, a good mix, and readers of a similar stripe.
I’ve joined short-lived book clubs and tried to get into book clubs that apparently cannot spare an extra chair. My last two club meetings were clear examples of a square peg not fitting into the round roles.
‘Are you in my mother’s garden club?’
Since last fall, the young librarians at our up-and-coming library have been hosting book parties: book club meetings in a trendy local bar. The experimental gatherings were wildly popular, attracting a wide array of readers. I felt right at home going alone to the first few meetings. Not so much last time, when I found myself sitting in a busy bar at an empty table keeping watch over a flock of “reserved for book party” placards. This was after I went to every busy table asking, “Book club? Excuse me, is this the book club?” and getting shoulder shrugs and quizzical looks in reply.
Moments before I gave up the table, the placards and I were joined by a raucous group of fresh-faced and firm-butted 20-somethings. Easily I had 20 years on them. I told myself, “Oh, so what?” and ordered a giant glass of white wine.
While I won’t say the evening was a disaster — I actually had some nice conversations with them based on my asking a litany of questions about their lives — I found it excruciatingly difficult to discuss the featured book. It was written by a 20-something about 20-somethings. On more than one occasion, they referred to the book’s narrator as a “liberal douche” and a “fatalist fuckwad.” I am not an educator. Maybe teachers would know how to handle this scenario a little better. I am also not a U.N. ambassador, so the diplomacy thing started to wear thin after the first 30 minutes. Finally, I resigned myself to being outnumbered.
While the group had me beat in the education credentials department, (All had or were finishing graduate degrees, which they admitted were keeping them busy until they could find work in this downturned economy.) I had them beat with life miles logged. Not that I could get any of them to recognize or respect that. While I was willing to listen to their literary analyses of the book, their listing of the author’s fatal flaws and amateur writing errors, I felt like their mother when I attempted to break down some possible themes of the book based on life experience. In other words: Someday when you are in your 40s, you will look back at all the self-involved shit of your 20s and see it through a different lens.
It was like I was sitting face-to-face with my own insufferable 25-year-old self: perpetual college student, angsty literary freak wrapped in layers of irony and cynicism.
Eventually I realized they were just smashed. I finished my wine and excused myself.
They may have been smirking at me just a little.
‘Did you go to school with my granddaughter?’
My community center book club experience wasn’t much better. In this case, I was easily 30 years younger than all the participants. While in the former case, all the attendees cradled iPhones and Blackberries in their palms to text each other from across the table, the ones at this gathering were all about their manila folders of news clippings and mimeographs of book lists dating back to the Reagan administration. Conversation about the book of the month followed a very formal road until it ran out of gas. Then those in attendance slipped into what must be their usual banter: an update of ailments, hospital visit recaps, and their hatred and distrust of the Internet and computers. While the hipsters barely waved bye to me when I left, I felt the tips of this group’s claws piercing my skin. They wanted phone numbers. They handed me several mimeographed sheets with margin notes written in pencil. They looked forward to me joining their ranks. They needed new blood, they said.
In both book groups I felt a generational disconnect and a distinct imbalance in the reader demographic. To the older folks I was this young whippersnapper who didn’t a Viceroy from a victory garden. To the hipsters, I was their mom.
More often than not, I’ve found myself in the equivalent of sitting in the wrong lecture hall in college and too afraid to get up and walk out.
The older I get, the more I feel my brain is like an old sponge. It still has the power to absorb but some of the content is questionable.
This post, by the way, has been rotting in my drafts folder since May. At one time it was a fresh writing prompt offered by the lovely San Diego Momma.