My Book Club Curse by Nina BadzinI’ve always pictured myself in a book club, but I have a book club curse.

My initial desire started young when I observed my mom’s relationship with her book club. My mom and the other members weren’t close friends or even neighbors in most cases. They were women brought together through a shared love of reading. I remember her rushing to finish a book days before the club’s next meeting because she wouldn’t dream of showing up unprepared. And she never wanted to miss a meeting. The only choice was to do her part: read the book and participate in the discussion. It’s a formula that’s worked for her group since it started in the 70s, and they’re still going strong though members have come and gone over the years.

My mom’s club’s formula (read the book + discuss it) was the one I had in mind when I started my first book club in the summer of 2000. I was twenty-three and had recently moved to Minneapolis where I knew my husband’s (then fiance’s) family and not another soul. I think I had this naively constructed fantasy of young almost-married life, which in my mind had to include a book club. Aside from the model of my mom’s book club in the back of my mind, I also had Oprah. You have to remember that the summer of 2000 was the heyday of Oprah’s book club. People were reading the same books all over the country, discussing them in cozy groups while sipping wine in well-designed living rooms. I wanted in! More than anything though, I wanted to make friends.

I invited the few people I’d met when I first moved to town, and they invited others they knew. I designed it so whoever was hosting the next meeting also picked the book we’d discuss. I remember not loving some of the choices, but like my mother, I always finished so I could participate intelligently in our discussions. My frustration when others didn’t finish or when we didn’t really discuss the book at all was palpable. Let’s just say I wasn’t exactly the most popular woman in the group and instead of making friends, I made people mad. Eventually I quit.

Fast forward a few years. A friend of mine invited me into a book club with some women she’d known in high school. Again I imagined those cozy living rooms from Oprah and said yes. This book club didn’t work out for me either.ย  Sometimes people didn’t finish the book, and when that was the case, those of us who actually read the book weren’t supposed to “ruin” the ending. Well, when I accidentally broke that rule, the group’s unofficial leader sent a scathing email to the entire group (although it was clearly meant just for me) reminding us how “unfair” it was to spoil the ending for others. Needless to say, I left that group immediately.

Since then I’ve been invited into other groups, but I’ve said no every time. In a smaller community like Minneapolis, I simply can’t afford to make any more “book club enemies.” However, a group exists in my neighborhood with women of all ages. The two women I know in the group promise me it’s a serious book club. So now I’m turning the idea over to my blog readers. Should I try it?

Those of you in book clubs you love, are my expectations for a book club too high? Am I the problem here? It’s certainly a good possibility!

(Photo credit from Glencoe Public Library via Flickr)

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Nina Badzin is a freelance writer, a lead writing instructor at ModernWell in Minneapolis as well as ModernWell's book club director. She reviews 50 books a year on her blog, writes reviews for other sites, and has a friendship advice column at The HerStories Project. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and four children.

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