I've been a member of a couple of book clubs, but I haven't liked them. Until I read a short story called “To the Measures Fall” in a recent issue of the New Yorker, I thought my failure to enjoy them was due to a flaw in my character. However, when I read the description by Richard Powers, the author of “To the Measures Fall”, of the book club his protagonist takes her favourite book to, I recognised the scene straight away:
“Two club members report flinging the book across the room in a rage. Another demands her three days back. Accusations multiply: it's mawkish, it's cerebral, it's meandering, it's manipulative, it's cold and cunning and misanthropic, it's wrecked by redemption. How are we supposed to care about these characters? I just wanted them all to get a life.”
It's very disconcerting to be given a book, which you read and enjoy, or even don't much enjoy but have lots of thoughts about, all of which you save up for the big night, and then to join a number of people you think you know quite well and who in most circumstances seem reasonable and thoughtful and listen to them say things that are impossible to argue with and not worth articulating, like, 'I just wanted them all to get a life”. Although book clubs are probably meant to foster a sense of community, I came away from each meeting feeling peculiarly lonely.