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July 25, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

The Book Club Incident

Book Clubs and Secret Societies

I knew my friend D was in a book club and I secretely wanted to be a part of it.  I didn’t really know anyone in the group, but I wanted to join anyway.  The organizer of the club insisted that there were only eight members at all times, to make the book discussion manageable.  I’m pretty sure that if it was an “Anyone can Join” sort of thing I wouldn’t have been interested in the slightest; but the exclusivity peaked my interest.  Clubs that anyone can join are like Participant ribbons in sports: I know, because I have an impressive collection of Participant ribbons.  When I was a kid I loved to start “clubs” and we’d make secret passwords and code names for each other and we would never let the neighborhood boys join.  Being somewhat of an artist, I loved making ID cards for the club members. 

Who? Me?!

One day, a spot opened up in Book Club, and they invited me to join!  I felt like Charlie Brown when he got an invitation to Violet’s party, except this time it wasn’t a mistake.  I accepted the invite and suddenly I was penning in monthly book club meetings to an otherwise barren calendar. 

Some cheese with your whine?

The meetings were so much fun that the scheduled two hours often turned into four.  I’d be out until 11 PM on a Tuesday night.  The conversations were stimulating, the appetizers were awesome, and the company was marvelous.  The combination of personalities meshed really well.  One month it was discovered that two of the book club members were expecting babies (I was one of them) and a Book Shower was thrown for our future readers.  Everyone had an open mind, no one talked on top of each other, and the process for choosing next month’s book was more democratic than a small town election.  But for me, it wasn’t meant to last forever.

The Downward Spiral

One month three of the eight girls moved out of state.  It was like a freak accident for it to happen at the same time.  One went to Wisconsin, one to Texas, and one to California.  We’d miss them of course, and we even kept them in the book club e-mail loop for a really long time, but the race to fill the three open spots began.

It was difficult to find readers or club-joining wanna-bes like me, apparently, because soon it was decided that everyone should just start asking people to join.  The gals started inviting people from other groups, from the grocery store, from the school board.  Some people tried to join but didn’t stick with it for more than one or two meetings.  Turnover started happening really fast.  Sooner or later, with so many invitations happening, there were suddenly ten girls in the book club and something, something was off about the combination of personalities.  Half the girls in the club didn’t finish their book during the month, so the discussion ceased being interesting or stimulating.  People who didn’t read the book couldn’t stay on topic, so the five people trying to talk about Chapter Five got sucked into a conversation about random crap like Halloween costumes or someone’s relatives.  Appetizers became a crapshoot…one month the well-to-do host would offer Brie, wine, and a fruit platter; the next month we’d be chomping down beenie-weenies and drinking three dollar wine out of plastic cups.  You never knew whether or not you should have dinner beforehand.  Myself, I grew up po’, so I am not above eating a beenie-weenie with my fingers…but some of the gals seemed to be, and the tension level at meetings started growing. 

Beanie Weenies. You know you want some.

Losing the Magic

The book club discussions really went downhill.  With so many people not finishing, or even starting, the book, yet attempting to discuss, getting off track was a given.  But when one person derailed the conversation, everyone else jumped too.  So it’s hard to blame one person.  And the quality of the conversation was seriously going downhill too.  During our Secret Life of Bees discussion, one of the newer gals make a comment about some of the characters… “those people are good at sports because of all the running around the jungle their ancestors had to do.”  And she was serious, because she was raised that way.  It was awful.  Everyone in the room freaked out and some girls even started shouting over each other about what a terrible comment that was. 

One day I got an email from the organizer.  It was very polite.  It went something like this:

Hey M,

Book club meetings are really getting out of control.  S, in particular, seems to be causing a lot of the problems.  You seem to be really good friends with S.  Please talk to her and ask her if she would either read the books or stay on track. 

Thanks, The Organizer.

I did that thing where you scrunch up your face in confusion.  S didn’t seem to that much be a problem.  She derailed conversations but so did everyone else.  And she wasn’t even the one who had the ignorant comment during the Secret Life of Bees discussion.  And sure, I was friends with S…but not friendly enough to tactfully say “Hey, the Organizer thinks you have a big mouth, so please keep it shut it at meetings.”  I didn’t want to do Organizer dirty work if I wasn’t the Organizer.  What to do, what to do…

Mean Librarians

I didn’t say anything to S about her “behavior.”  How could I?  She didn’t even realize that she and the Organizer were clashing.  So the downward spiral continued.  Meetings weren’t as fun anymore.  Instead of staying until 11 PM, everyone was out the door by nine. 

Then it was decided that we’d be getting our books off of the local library Book Club Selection list.  Many libraries have this…it’s a collection of books that you can check out in a large quantity.  The problem is that there are only so many books to choose from on the library list.  But with ten people, this was the easiest course of action because not everyone wanted to pay for the book. 

The Organizer checked out the books and they were passed out to everyone at the meetings.  And here is where the really stupid, petty, ridiculous behavior began.  People still weren’t reading the books like they were supposed to.  And now since we were getting the books off of a list, I didn’t feel invested in the selection anymore.  I became one of those gals who didn’t want to even start the book.  Because some of us chose not to read the book, we started to skip the meetings.  If we skipped the meeting, then we didn’t get the book back to the Organizer on time.  So I did what I thought I should…I quit taking the books I didn’t want to read because I knew that I wouldn’t get them back to the Organizer in time.  The very Type A Organizer wanted the books back a couple of days ahead of time so she could account for all of them and get them back to the library.  This should have been okay…but then people started delivering the books to me, my house, my car.  No!  I don’t want that book!  Take it away, I said.  But no.  

Suddenly I really, really didn’t want to be part of Book Club anymore.  I had a harder time working up the desire to get to the meetings.  Once I missed a meeting and therefore didn’t get the book back in time.  The next day I got a cold email from The Organizer, insisting that the books get returned to her ASAP.  We did not have the option of returning them to the library even though it would be more convenient.  I felt so bad about not returning the book on time, that one morning I got up extra early so I could run to Organizer’s house and drop the book off.  Since it was six AM, I left it on her driveway in the newspaper bag.  I didn’t figure she’d want me to ring the bell.  I got a “Geez, thanks” email.  Organizer had been pretty friendly to me at this point, but suddenly I felt like I must be on the shit list.  Then I heard that the Organizer was freaking out because of potential library fines.  Since they were all checked out under her name, this was acceptable.  However…

Organizer started sending out dramatic e-mails to the Book Club, stating that the librarian gave her a good talking to about getting the books late.  She said that the librarians were calling her and leaving mean messages on the phone because S still didn’t get her book back to the library. 

A few days later, The Organizer singled a few of the late returners and demanded that they get the books to her right now because they were five days overdue.  And she was still very upset because she continued to get mean messages from the librarians.  You must get the books to me, she scolded, because they absolutely have to be returned as a set, no exceptions!  You cannot, I repeat cannot, return these books directly to the library!

Return your books, you whippersnappers!  Or Im going to kick your ass.

Return your books, you whippersnappers!

Then I got another email, addressed just to me, from the Organizer.  It went something like…

M,

PLEASE tell S to return the book to me.  I’m getting nasty messages from the library and the books are now five days overdue.  I’m going to have to pay the overdue fines.  Thanks,

The Organizer.

I called S.  Don’t ask my why I was still getting asked to do Organizer type dirty work.  It was a little insulting, actually.  S felt horrible about the situation.  The Organizer didn’t realize this, but S would rather crumple up and die than inconvenience another human being.  It’s true.  Hell, I didn’t feel nearly as bad as S did about my late book.  I figured that if there was a fine imposed on anyone because of me, I would be more than happy to pay it.  Also, I thought, if this was getting to be such a problem for the Book Club, how about we not do the Book Club Selection?  No one was holding a gun to the Organizer’s head saying “Check out ten books at a time, or else.”  Personally if I didn’t want to be responsible for someone else’s book returning skills, I wouldn’t take them on.  I tell those lousy, non-returning book club members (like me) to go get their own books. 

Here’s the clincher.  S worked for the library district in Colorado Springs for ten years.  Though the “Mean Librarian” was now working in the next county over, S had worked with her and pretty much everyone in that library at one time.  So S gave her a call to apologize and offer to pay the total fines wrought on The Organizer.  The librarian typed in some info onto the computer.

“Oh, that set’s not due for another two days,” the librarian told S.  “Don’t worry about it.”

“Oh, good,” S said. 

“Oh, and if you’re late we’re not going to fine for the whole set,” the librarian said.  “Just return it when you can.”

“But don’t they have to be returned as a set?” S asked.

“It’s more convenient that way, but it’s not a big deal.  That’s what bar codes are for,” the librarian said. 

They went on to have a half-hour conversation.  S, who worked for a library for a decade, later pointed out some obvious things to me.  Librarians don’t call people to remind them that books are late, and in the event they ever did, they certainly wouldn’t yell and demand that the books are returned.  They sometimes send out form reminders via email or snail mail, and they don’t send them until you are several days overdue.  If librarians had to make phone calls to every person with a late book, they would never get off the phone.  Besides, libraries make their money off of book fines.  They want you to be late. 

I was totally deflated to learn this.  The Organizer had been using some seriously passive-aggressive techniques to get grown women to return the books a week ahead of time.  I can be pretty type A myself, but dammit, that’s extreme.  S

S sent the Organizer a note.  She mentioned that she was just going to return the book to the library so she wouldn’t have to worry about it.  The Organizer sent S a note.  It had plenty of ALL CAPS shouting.  S sent the whole thread to me.  All I can say is, ouch!  Still, S returned the book directly to the library anyway, and the world did not stop turning.  However, the Organizer gave her the boot from Book Club, which suited S just fine. 

Sometimes It’s Okay to be a Quitter!

Later that day, the Organizer sent out an email to the remaining book club girls that said something like:

“Ladies…This is just a reminder to please use common courtesy and return the books on time.” 

It was longer and more condescending than that, but for me, it was the last straw.  I will be damned if I have a peer speak to me like they are my mommy.  Especially, especially when I know that we’ve been eating some serious BS lately.  Not to mention, I already have a mother to nag me about common courtesy, kthxbye. 

So I replied and was short and to the point. 

Please take me off this list.  I do not wish to participate in Book Club anymore. 

And sadly, it was true.  My glory days of being a Book Club member were over.  And I was glad about it.  A weight was off my shoulders.  Though from time to time, I miss the Beanie Weenies and the Brie. 

What have we learned from this incident?  For me, it was a reminder that no matter how old we get, cliques and cattiness will always reign supreme in the Wide World of Womanhood.  And seventh grade attitudes persist long after the smell of notebook paper and scented ink have disappeared into the lockers of our memories. 

But the good news is that we no longer have to stay until the bell rings.

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9 Comments

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  1. pikespeakdenise / Aug 4 2008 8:58 pm

    No, I certainly didn’t mean to make it out to sound like you’re lying either. I DO remember the common courtesy comment. 😦 I am glad S cleared the record about not being kicked out.

    Vacation was fun, but you probably already got the ol’ photo viewing invite. I am beat, but must blog about my “bar fight” eventually…

  2. S / Jul 29 2008 10:37 am

    Ah…the bookclub incident. I had all but forgotten about it. It’s all true. I was actually shocked that anyone would ever accuse any of our Librarians as being anything but accommodating. The other thing is that there is not a written or spoken policy about how you return your book club books. They don’t care how or where they are returned. The Library just wants it back.

    I have to say, it was the first bookclub I have ever been in and the last. I’m pretty picky about who I spend time with and I find most women to be closed minded, petty, self-centered and judgmental (even myself). I have to admit that my personality can sometimes be overwhelming and dominant in a group of women, but that’s even more of a reason to stay away from “clubs”. Oh, and just for the record, I wasn’t kicked out…I just stopped responding to the invitations and after about 3 months they took me off the e-mail list.
    -S

    LOL – I was told you got the boot. This post is doing an excellent job of illustrating my frustrations. 🙂 I still love you.

  3. Allison / Jul 27 2008 8:05 pm

    Um, that’s crazy. Maybe I’m glad afterall that I’m not aware of any book clubs around here.

    The whole incident kind of reminds me of my experience on a non-profit board. Quitting can definitely be good at times.

    I think I remember reading about that one. Yeah. It’s easy for me to really like people as individuals, but you put them in a group or committee of some kind and it’s as if the Group Brain starts shorting out and making everyone crazy.

  4. smalltownsmalltimes / Jul 27 2008 12:42 pm

    Man, that was some ugly business. Anytime a group of women can attach the word “Club” to something they are doing, be very, very wary.

    I was “invited” to be in a book club and I resigned after two meetings. The women were picking psuedo intellectual books that I slogged through (e.g. “Passage to India” on Spring break! oy!) only to arrive at the meeting and find no one could ever could finish it. Why bother with the fancy schmancy books? Also, after I blabbed at the first meeting, the organizer of my group called me at home with her idea of good news — “You were great” she said, “I bet everyone at that meeting is wishing they could be friends with you.” I was so creeped out by her, I quit two weeks later.

    You’re telling me! That IS extra-creepy. I think you are on to something…we seemed to have the most success with getting people to read with “fun, light” books.

  5. morethananelectrician / Jul 26 2008 12:02 pm

    Whew! Us guys just get together to watch football. The only time it gets ugly is if someone runs out of beer or there’s a Redskins and Cowboys fan sitting next to each other.

    Simplicity.

    🙂

    And you get to pee standing up. Life is just not fair.

  6. pikespeakdenise / Jul 25 2008 10:08 pm

    I was just hoping you’d really post it today before I took off on vacation! I have never known The Organizer (yes, the one with the brie!) to lie, and I’ve known her a long time, so I still don’t know what to think there…

    So it’s must better to come here and make it sound like *I’m* lying? 🙂 About the book club nonsense? Your last comment almost described you as a self-accused Book Club Nazi…so I wouldn’t expect you to go for anything the Book Club Anarchists might think. But I’m not trying to convince you anyway. And perhaps it wasn’t so much a “lie” as an “oversensitivity” to the sound of librarian voices. Or maybe some people do whatever it takes to ensure that they get stuff done in time…I remember you telling me lots of Type A stories about the Organizer..come to think of it 🙂 And I tried not to take a side, but the story of the “yelling librarian” and the conflicting due dates is what convinced me. Oh, and the email trail… But that’s not why I left. The remark about common courtesy was what pushed me over the edge.

    Happy vacation! Going anywhere excellent?

  7. Carli / Jul 25 2008 8:42 pm

    I think it was Professor Plum in the Library with the candlestick…

    It may have been Ted Kacszynski in Storage Room B with a red stapler…

  8. crisitunity / Jul 25 2008 8:40 pm

    Awesome post. Within lie many of the reasons I have no interest whatsoever in book clubs, even though I have been a book devourer since the age of three.

    My guess is that The Organizer was the one with the brie.

    You are SO CORRECT. It was delicious.

  9. pikespeakdenise / Jul 25 2008 4:02 pm

    I am glad to finally hear the other side of the book club incident. I never knew what went on with the flying e-mails, I just knew that as a fellow set checker-outer, I had been lumped into the book nazi group. I imagine the truth is somewhere in the middle, but your blog, as always, is more entertaining! I did not check out books again myself for at least 6 months. But when I realized that The Organizer was doing it all herself, I went ahead and did one month. And of course I ended up having to turn in the set late still missing one of the books. But I took a deep breath and let it go. I also asked said non-turner-inner if she would take a turn checking out, and she is this month! Book club has regained consistency of membership, but I’d say only half finish the books. Still, I enjoy the time, most nights.

    I bet you waited all day to see what I’d write. 🙂 I stand by what happened, and of course it’s entertaining…it was entertaining to live through. Hope you are all doing well.

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