May 17, 2012

How to kill a book club


Sadly, all of these women are illiterate

If you, like my mother, have ever had an afternoon’s toil with ramekins and kalamata olives spoiled by a rambunctious book club guest, this will strike a chord with you. And after all your suffering, you deserve that much. The Middle Class Handbook (yep) has compiled a list of the five most effective ways to kill a book club:

1. The over-opinionated friend.
2. Over-ambitious theming.
3. Too much Sauvignon Blanc.
4. Laziness.
5. Middlemarch.

Ring any bells? Even members of hipster book clubs could probably identify with the first four, if for Sauvignon Blanc you read whisky — and I always do. The Eliot-bashing is justified as follows:

The death knell for a book club. Someone will confess ‘I’ve never read Dickens’ and it’s only a short hop from there until ‘we should try the classics‘ rears its fearful head.  Attempt anything pre-1900 and over 450 pages and your book club will shrivel up and die.

That’s crying out for a trendy urban literato’s objection, but you might be surprised to hear that it’s also drawn criticism from readers of none other than the Daily Mail, that last bastion of cultural standards. The right-wing crap-rag picked up on the list (though not, apparently, the fact that the Middle Class Handbook is a piss-take), and many readers leapt to Middlemarch‘s defence. Observing this enables me to quote this doozy of a reader comment:

Try reading something of substance. Human beings have done some fantastically interesting stuff over the years, all of it as riveting as any work of fiction. Why not actually learn something instead of reading about fictional lords falling in love with pretty (but terribly poor) housemaids, or naive young women who all of a sudden, after 500,000 pages of gruelling nonsense, become wise and enlightened.

Quite. In any case, we now know what kills the traditional suburban book club. What spells death for trendy urban literatos and their weekday gatherings?


Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.