I’m pretty sure I’m the only woman I know who isn’t in a book club. All my friends are always talking to me about what they’re reading for their next book club meeting and how they like it or hate it or are bored by it, and I guess they don’t notice I always look blank.
I am, sad to say, a lone reader. What is wrong with me??
I know that tarnishes me as weird and antisocial, but reading’s always seemed to be a private experience to me. I pick up a book late in the afternoon or before I go to bed at night and I zone out and forget where I am. “I hate to say it,” my fifth-grade teacher announced to an all-school assembly, “but this girl reads too much.” I went stumbling up on the stage and picked up some kind of bookworm award. I’m not sure my parents even knew about the award, but they were already mortified to have a kid who liked books a little too much. Where had they gone wrong? Where was the pretty, popular girl they should have given birth to?
“You were escaping from your family life,” my husband the psychologist likes to say all these years later. Yeah, maybe. Or maybe I just like to read, Dr. Freud. Sometimes a book is just a book.
So, anyway, I grew up in the kind of family that found reading subversive and I always had to be private about it. Come to think of it, that sounds an awful lot like sex. I’m not a member of a sex club, either. Coincidence?
The problem is, I don’t like to be told what to read — and most book clubs seem to do that. (This relates to my little problem with authority, I think.) And, once I’ve read a book, I don’t necessarily like to talk about it. I’m perfectly capable of closing the cover of a book at the end and never thinking about it again.
Similarly, I once went to a movie with a couple I knew. The minute the lights came on, they started to talk about the movie. Hadn’t the cinematography been swell? And how about the literary allusions? Oh, and did you catch the superb performance in the third act?
I, of course, was totally mute. I can no longer recall what the movie was or whether I liked it or disliked it. I just knew I had nothing perceptive to say about it. “D’you like that?” my husband and I will mutter to each other after a movie is over. “Yeah. It was OK.” We don’t usually say much more than that, unless we’ve been particularly stirred or unless we disagree, in which case we might get into a fight about who has better taste in movies. (Neither of us is in a movie club, either.)
I realize I sound kind of grouchy about the whole thing. Maybe I’m just resentful that people aren’t beating down my door, begging me to join their wonderful book club, assuring me that I would bring so much to the table and would really, really love it. After all, since I occasionally manage to string several sentences together, wouldn’t I be stunningly insightful about books? No, I would not. I would just look glazed and cross-eyed and bored, wondering when I could make a break for the door.
Oh, but wait. Now, I get it. Reading has become too socially sanctioned and approved by the “right” people — and that feels wrong to me. I want to sneak off into a corner and rebel by reading. Maybe the only way I can do that these days is to keep the whole experience to myself.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)