Going Clubbing

“Did I tell you that Nat and I are starting a book club? It’s just the two of us so far.”
Dee-Dee remained focused on the plate of snacks I had just set in front of her, and began assembling mini roast beef sandwiches and neat stacks of cheese and crackers.
Without looking up from her plate, Dee asked, “Cool, can I be in it?”
I looked at Nat, rolled my eyes dramatically and said, “No, you’re in that elitist book club in Milwaukee. You need to stick with your own kind.”
“No! I’m not in it anymore! I got kicked out, like over a year ago.”
Several years ago, when I still lived in Milwaukee, a friend of Dee-Dee’s started a book club with some of her colleagues who worked for a local television station. One of the members was an evening news anchor, which gave her a moderate amount of celebrity and apparently first say on every book selection for the club. Dee-Dee said she could get me into this book club. She said we would be a team. She said a lot of things. But just like Johnny Bravo, when the book club only wanted her, Dee dropped me like a hot potato. I stopped watching that news station, burned all my books, and moved to Chicago.

I looked over at Nat again to confer, but she was busy rolling up slices of prosciutto into tiny tubes and pressing them between two crackers. I turned to Dee and said, “Well, maybe you can join. We’ll let you come to our first meeting, and see how it goes. We need to see how you interact with the group, and make sure you bring a positive dynamic to the book club.”
“So… you want to see how I fit in with the group? The group that is just the three of us right here.”
“Yes, this group here. We’re not letting just anyone into our book club. One bad apple spoils the whole bunch. Girl.”
“Okay, well what book are we going to read?”
“I’m not totally sure yet. Nat and I were thinking that the theme of this book club could be ‘Books we should have read by now.’ The first one might be Catcher in the Rye.”
Natasha perked up, “Jenny just wants to read that so she can pick up little arty boys in bars.”
“Shut up! I do not!”
Dee-Dee gave me a confused look. “Huh?”
Before I could change the subject, Nat launched into a description of our night on the town last Friday. We both needed to blow off some steam after a long, stressful workweek, so we met for dinner at a tapas restaurant and started the evening off by splitting a bottle of Spanish red. Shortly after desserts were polished off, we still felt a bit parched, and decided to continue on to a local hangout that serves the best Old Fashioneds in town. Or perhaps just the strongest. In any case, by the time we finished our first Old Fashioned, I was in a much better mood and feeling quite chatty.
We were sitting at the bar when an adorable black-capped, twenty-something scrawny poet boy sidled up next to us. He ordered a whisky, pulled out a book and started reading. Since my earlier attempt at socializing with a different barstool-mate failed miserably after his model-esque girlfriend showed up, I thought I would try a different approach:
I leaned in a bit and said, “We have a bet going that you’re reading Salinger.”
No one can resist a woman who gambles.
He gave me a crooked grin, paused a moment, then flipped the book over. Sure enough, it was Nine Stories, by JD Salinger. (Fortunately, Nat had caught a glimpse of the cover of his book earlier and said it looked just like her old copy of Franny and Zooey. I like to gamble, but only with house odds.)
I started to chat him up a bit – he had just moved here from Lincoln, Nebraska, didn’t know many people, was finishing up his Masters before moving on to his PhD, really loved the city but wished he had someone to show him around… when suddenly Nat jumped in with, “Yeah, we were both just saying how we’ve never read Salinger!”
After I burned Nat a look that would melt steel, the conversation took a rapid downturn. My grey roots and wrinkles began to show in the harsh candlelight of the bar, he started talking about text messaging, I tried to explain my job in a way that sounded hip, and then got all confused. These things happen as you get older.
“Way to go, Nat! Why’d you tell him I had never read Salinger? What the hell kind of wingman are you?”
“Mmm, the honest kind?”
“Yeah, because honesty is really what you look for in a good wingman. Why didn’t you just talk about my body fat percentage and fondness for doing paint-by-numbers while you were at it?”
“Jenny, that’s silly. I don’t know your body fat percentage.”
The evening ended shortly thereafter, with me walking back home alone, cursing the day I chose French as my major.
Back in my cheese and meat filled apartment, Nat chimed in, “Hey, why don’t we read Pride and Prejudice?”
“Ugh! No way. No way are we reading that!”
When I suggested the theme of “Books we should have read by now,” I hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that many of the books I should have read by now are really old books, often set in what is commonly known as “the days of yore.”
Nat and Dee-Dee laughed, knowing my long-standing internal struggle with period pieces. I can’t even look at the poster for the movie Pride and Prejudice without getting drowsy. When I’m reading, the mere mention of a corset or antechamber makes my eyes start to get heavy. Add to that, chapter upon chapter of long, drawn-out unrequited romance with the “Oh, Mr. Darcy” this and the “Why, Miss Doolittle” that, and I’m lucky if I can reach the bed before collapsing on the floor in a twitching mass.
“Pick something else. Something less flouncy.”
Dee-Dee suggested, “Okay, how about To Kill a Mockingbird? Absolute classic, and a definite must-read.”
“Are there corsets?
“Handlebar mustaches?”
“Mmm, don’t think so.”
“Well, all right. So I’ll plan the first meeting. Maybe we could have an Italian night, and make gourmet pizzas, and have fancy antipasto platters with salami and pepperoni and olives and peppers! I’ll pick out a couple nice wines – a Chianti would probably be good. Oh, and we can listen to my new Rosemary Clooney CD – it has Mambo Italiano on it. It’s so good! Hey – if we plan it for a Wednesday, we could make it coincide with the finale of America’s Next Top Model, too! I should also probably pick up some cannoli from the bakery on-“
Dee cut me off, “Jen? At any point during your book club meeting are we actually going to discuss the book?”
I looked at the growing list of groceries and projects I had started, and replied, “I think we’ll just need to play that part by ear. That’s a lot to cram into one evening.”
“I think I’m starting to understand why these remain the ‘Books you should have read by now.’”

19 Responses to “Going Clubbing”

  1. nina Says:

    Recognizing your issue (not having read stuff considered by others as ‘musts’)is 80% of the battle. So now that you won 80% of the battle, sit back and enjoy the food. And during the next meeting play some fun games. Like y’all can make all sorts of lists of books — ones you know you’d hate from the 100 greats, ones you read only the first chapter of, ones you read only the last chapter of, ones you pretend to have read etc. The actual reading does not have to be part of a book club!

  2. Neil Says:

    I didn’t realize that those book clubs can be so competitive. I once went to one where the entire meeting was spent arguing over which book to read. The most aggressive person won with “100 Years of Solitude.” But then everyone felt angry and acted passive-aggressive, so no one actually read the book for the next meeting, our of spite. So, the group disbanded.

  3. sween Says:

    I almost never meet people that read the same books I do. And when I do… they’re so geeky. So, I read alone.

    And now… a short bout of cruelty:

    – Corsets!
    – Holiday in Shropshire!
    – “He has an income of 800 pounds a year!”
    – Pianoforte!

    Jenny should be fast asleep right about now.

  4. jessica Says:

    Jen, this is great!
    I’m actually in two book clubs – one that meets every month and one that meets every other month (which is the only reason I can pull both off). Also, they sometimes choose the same books so that helps, too.
    FYI – while I’m in Chicago, I am SO a better wingman than Nat (no offense, Nat).

  5. jenny Says:

    Nina: I have nominated you for honorary book club Vice President and Treasurer. You just need to go through my rigorous interview process first: 1) Do you like food? Y or N. 2) Do you like wine? Y or N. 3) Do you like corsets? Y or N.
    I’ll review the details of our interview with the book club and let you know their decision.
    Neil: What I hear you saying is that by not reading the book, I’m probably saving my friendship with Natasha and Dee-Dee. You’re a wise man, Neilochka.
    Sween: [waking up in puddle of drool on keyboard]
    Whazza? Snrrf… huh? Where am I? Am I late for school?

    Jessica: Two book clubs? That means double the corsets! And you don’t have to pack your wingman uniform. I’ve been dishonorably discharged.

  6. Sarah Says:

    Milwaukee?? Where in Milwaukee?
    Quite creepy that my friends and I had this exact same book club idea going, and Catcher in the Rye was also our choice!

  7. Darby Says:

    …Now that sounds like a book club I can get behind. I think I might have to set up a satellite group!

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Dear Jenny,
    I’m so glad to see that you’ve taken a renewed interest in drinking. I mean reading.
    Wish I could be book clubbing American’s Next Top Model with you gals.

  9. jenny Says:

    Sarah – east side. You can be an honorary member of my book club. I’ll let you know all the books we don’t read.
    Darby – Hmm. You’re one of those Smarty Von Brainsters, though, who has read like, 75 of the top 100 “must read” books. How are you going to feel when I suggest a Harlequin romance as our next book?
    Viv – Yeah, we may do a whole series on ANTM. In fact, I may choose Janice Dickinson’s autobiography as our first official book.

  10. The Scarlett Says:

    Okay, that Shropshire comment had me laughing. And I loved the fact that your honest wingman outed you as a non-reader of Salinger.
    I can’t believe that they called your previous book club ‘elitist’ and then wanted you to be a provisional member of their club of two.
    Now, I’m off to Surrey for a fortnight with Mr. Bingley. Cheerio!

  11. McMonkey Says:

    To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books of all time, and really, the only good thing that came out of high school american lit class. Everyone in law school wants to be Atticus Finch…sadly, we end up as Hamilton Berger.

  12. patricia Says:

    I started a book club a few years back. I got grief for only inviting certain people, but I stood strong on my list. I picked people with whom I’d previously had very good book discussions and who swore to me that they loved to read and who wanted to be in a book club. The thing lasted five months if that. Picking books got to be too involved, if people didn’t agree with the book choice, they didn’t read it which would be fine except there were only about six of us in the club and sometimes only 2 or three people had read the book. It was no fun.
    Also no fun? Your heartbreaking revelation that you have no desire to read my absolute favorite book of all time. Tres sad. I agree that the style can be a bit tedious if you’r not used to it, but oh god, once you get used to it … It’s a funny, smart, beautiful book. But blah. I’m completely biased so don’t mind me.

  13. Christie Says:

    I was so waiting for this to turn into a Poll. I wanted to see if any of the books from my “need to read” shelf were listed.
    Great post!

  14. TCho Says:

    Oh I’m with you. I don’t like old books either.

  15. jenny Says:

    TS: Actually, I was the one who called Dee’s book club elitist. But really, they were! Why didn’t they like me? I know how to read! I’m nice! Why didn’t they like me? [runs out sobbing]
    McM: “Atticus! Atticus!” That’s my favorite part of “Dog Day Afternoon.”
    P: Yeah, that doesn’t sound fun at all! And so sorry to break your heart w/ P&P. I’ve actually never even opened it up… it’s really just on principle. But I’ll try to regain your respect somehow… mmm… Oh! I like Salma Hayek. No, no actually I don’t. Can we still be friends?
    C: Interesting idea you bring up, m’lady. Perhaps I’ll do a Thanksgiving poll… (is anyone even around this weekend?)
    T: Yes! Another member for my book club!

  16. asia Says:

    oh I read this post last. I would not have lectured you that you should have read these books if I knew the topic was books I should have read.
    Anyway, I have never been into period pieces. I dont think I have ever read one single book that could fit into that catagory. Ever. Strong polarity there.

  17. Darby Says:

    Hey! Even us huge nerds dig a little smut now and then. In fact, that’s my middle name: “Nerd Who Digs Smut”. Gosh, was that ever awkward when we were learning how to write our names in cursive in grade school.

  18. jaymmarie Says:

    one of my good friends loves P&P and i pretty much…well, don’t. and we are in book club together. interesting!
    i am a great wingman, really… we gotta get a beer sometime (or old fashioned, as the case may be)
    happy thanksgiving

  19. Hap Says:

    Couldn’t handle the book? Why not SEE THE MOVIE?