Dear Book Club,
After our last meeting in February, I will not be joining the group tonight, nor will I
participate in the future. And this has nothing to do with the content of the books.
It is because most of you are cold enough to kill germs.
Last August, you advertised the book club as being open to new members. I mean, with it being through church and all, it should be. And so I decided to pick up a copy of your latest selection, and join the group for their September meeting.
That book, Jonathan Tropper’s THIS IS WHERE I LEAVE YOU is the subject of another blog post “A Dirty Book is Rarely Dusty” (under the Foxy Bibliophile Menu above) because it was rife with sexual content and language. But when the leader actually read the book and then posted a Mea Culpa in the bulletin, I thought the situation hilarious–SNL worthy, actually. But I digress…
So I joined the group to get to know some of the people I see at church every Sunday. I want to be able to worship with friends.
Also as a writer myself, I enjoy hearing what others have to say about books, as I tend to read with a writer’s eye to structure and style as well as a teacher’s eye to lit crit.
After one of the first meetings, some of you asked if I was a teacher, to which I answered that I am retired (although I did not explain why as I had not yet gone public with my cancer battle.)
Although I taught 28+ years, I am a bit young to be retired. Still, I lost a breast and a dozen lymph nodes or so, and besides living, retiring early is one blessing that came from the ordeal. It has allowed me to pursue my longtime goal of writing full-time.
I could tell a couple of you were reticent about having an English teacher in the group, so I told you I am not a literary snob whatsoever.
I said that I love any book that a reader can connect with, and made it my mission to put relevant books in the hands of some of the toughest students I taught over the years– case in point, twelfth-grade boys with home-detention ankle-monitors who never before enjoyed reading, among others.
To which, one of you announced, “Well I am a literary snob.”
Okay then. How nice, I thought. But said nothing except to wish everyone a good night and off we all went on our own separate ways.
Since then, I have attended all the meetings except one (due to more surgery.) You see, when I say I’m going to do something, or get involved, I go balls to the wall.
(Am I allowed to say ‘balls to the wall’ to church ladies? Well, when you introduce me to people who act like church ladies–as in women who are welcoming and warm–I’ll decide the answer to my own question.)
A couple of you, the leader included, are mildly friendly. And I do believe the leader has her heart in the right place. She’s a librarian and possibly an introvert.
But some have been less than kind when referring to me being retired.
It’s really the cliquishness of the “some” that I take umbrage with. It’s the passive-aggressive statements. The mean-girl looks across the room.
Having spent a career in the high school classroom, I am very attuned to group dynamics–especially the subtle ones that linger just below the surface of proprieity. And I know what I feel when I am at book club.
In fact, I felt it at an earlier meeting, and tried to shrug it off despite coming home upset. I told myself I would give it another month. And so I went back last month, and no, it was not my imagination. It didn’t take long for my stomach to wrap itself into knots.
- No one spoke to me except the leader who offered a brief greeting.
- The book snob wouldn’t answer me when I asked if anyone was sitting on the empty couch where her coat was placed.
- People walked into the room and avoided the empty seat next to me. (I do wear deodorant and use Listerine.)
As the hour plodded on, one of my observations about a character was dismissed with the wave of a hand, and all doubt as to the snub was removed. (I have no issue with an intellectual disagreement, but rather the tone and posturing used.)
I later found the quote to prove the point I had been trying to make when Book Snob wafted her hand at me, but by then my voice was quavering.
And then the Book Snob began talking about writers. As she pontificated and questioned how writers craft books and characters and themes, everyone ignored the elephant in the room. Me.
Okay, so how do I know they are playing me as the elephant in the room?
Months earlier, when asked what I was doing in my retirement, I said that I am a writer, I write novels among other things. I had told the group that it is my passion, that I have long studied and written fiction, and was delighted to be able to pursue it full-time.
So while I have so much to share about the writer’s process, I kept my mouth shut because I felt shut-out. (Not a bad strategy, all told. Several nights–including that one, I had even brought my business cards about my writing/blog to hand out, but never felt welcome or embraced enough by the group to do so.)
The church’s webmaster tried to answer the question–she said she had been to one writer’s conference at the local library, but her answer was pretty basic.
I continued to remain silent, and my intestines twisted like the flames of hell.
Later, the leader handed out a list of books from which to choose next month’s meeting.
The only male in the group excused himself once the title was chosen. He, of course, likely senses nothing amiss since he is a man–men simply can’t think like mean-girls. I’m sure he missed the looks shooting across the room or the shade thrown my way.
But then as I waited to learn the date of the next meeting, no one was making a move, so I asked for clarification.
The leader set the date, but no one else got up to leave. A pregnant pause hung in the air, and expectant looks were exchanged.
I stood up, said good night, and closed the door behind me. My ears burned as I walked to my car.
When I got home, my husband was in bed (he goes to work at zero-dark-thirty) but he rolled over and asked me how it went.
My response choked in my throat as I sat on my side of the bed to take off my boots.
Sometimes a person has to defrost before she can debrief.
A few days later, when I was able to tell my husband about book club, he said he knew how I felt. Last fall, we went to the church crab feast, and we were turned away from every table that had open seats as they were being “saved.”
Finally, the couple who usually sit behind our favorite pew, took pity and made room at their table. We had a good time, but I don’t think we’ll sign up for another fellowship.
Likewise, I will not be back to the book club.
You know, it’s all good to try to attract new members to the church, but sometimes kindness and charity begin with those people who are already among you, but feeling invisible.
Susan J. Anderson, Foxy Writer Chick