Book Group Politics


I have a small problem. I belong to two book groups. One I dearly love and one I hate with a passion. This problem is with the bad/hausfrau group.

I found the groups through a woman, Polly, whose husband worked out at my gym. He and I would talk politics during our cardio hour and manage to avoid said cardio. He eventually told me about his wife’s book groups. She, with meeting me only once, invited me to these book groups. That was nice, she didn’t have to do it. At the time I was desperate for some independance from Sparky and this seemed right up my ally.

Out of the two groups, Polly was friendlier with the hausfrau group than the Lit Circle. I love the Lit Circle. It’s all German women who teach English and other foreign languages and are interested in reading modern Lit in the original language. We read Contemporary North American fiction. Last year was John Irving, David Sedaris, Alice Hoffman, and John Updike. Get my drift? It’s fun and interesting and I look forward to it immensely. The leader researches every author and book and we actually discuss the books. I learn so much even though I’ve read the books previously.

The hausfrau group is the polar opposite. It’s lead by an American woman with a great big “suffer” stick up her bum. Two of the women are British and contrary to my experience with the British, quite aloof and humorless. They might actually have a sense of humor in a different situation. The other woman is from India and she is a kick in the pants. She and I get along well. Lorraine, who introduced me, did so in a very uh… ungracious manner. I think this is from where our (the group’s and mine) personal disconnect stems.

Looking for a phone number of one of the women, I stumbled upon the posts where Polly initially asked if I could join. It wasn’t very nice and she rather bluntly questioned my “self-proclaimed reader status.” She and I went to one hausfrau meeting together and then she moved back to America, leaving me to get to know the other women on my own.

Not usually a problem for me. I’m rather outgoing and like to talk and get to know people. But these women said not a word to me for the first four meetings. Then I offered to have a meeting at my house. And they spoke. The leader did not like my choice of books. I have been here three years. I shipped three boxes of books I simply could not live without. Every other book I have acquired here. I have 10 bookshelves two and three books deep. There was not one book there she “approved” of. Give it a rest, Becky, there had to be one.

So, one meeting I suggested A Complicated Kindnessby Miriam Toews. She’s a Canadian Mennonite and the book was so fabulous I re-read it three times in a row. I recommended this book after we read Graham Greene’s The Power and The Glory, an exhausting book if there ever was one.

Anyway, we read the Toews book and the leader HATED it. She didn’t understand the ending, she didn’t understand the Mennonite connection, she didn’t understand any of the subplots and she just found it “Not suited to her taste in literature.”

Wow… okay then. She took control again and suggested the next book we read. All Quiet on the Western Front. Holy shit, Batman. Just poke my eyes with forks, but do not make me read that book again.

Now I like to suffer when I read, don’t get me wrong. I have a whole collection of tortured women books that my GBF and I would pass back and forth. In fact, there is a whole lot of suffering in the Toews book, but do not give me a book about poor teenage boys falling bloodily in battle. I know it’s a good book. I read it. I had to, in my ninth grade English class. Didn’t we all? Why, then, must we re-visit?? Why don’t we just hit Lord of the Flies while we’re at it?


Seriously, I would rather watch Das Boot, then re-read that book.

So I mentioned that maybe we should move on to something a bit lighter.

The response? Silence. I heard some crickets and possibly a cat bell in the distance.

That was the last time I actively engaged in this group. I’ve read the books; I’ve gone to the meetings. I’ve kept quiet and now I just don’t want to go anymore.

I want to quit, but I don’t want to leave on a sour note. I want to be morally superior. Also, it’s a small circle of expats where I live and I don’t want to be the ungrateful American who read and ran.

So, I need a nicely worded exit email.


I thought about saying that our taste in books varies too greatly to bridge the gap, but that “self-proclaimed reader” still pisses me off. Who else proclaims you a reader? Your mama? Because if that’s the case, then I’m in trouble because if my mama had to tell those biddies I’m a reader, they are getting a whole lot more than they bargained for. They would not be happy to have her sit in their living room for a cup of tea (they don’t drink coffee).

This where I think I’m going.

Thanks for letting me join your reading group. I have appreciated your generosity and hospitality. At this time, I just don’t have the time to commit to the group.

Thank you.
Jen
Self Proclaimed Reader

So my question, why does this bother me so much? Seriously, it’s three women I don’t even like, but they made me feel so second rate. And yet I can’t just tell them to fuck off like I would anyone else (and do frequently). I have to be nice and I worry about the wording so much as I write a post about it.

Well I am hereby telling them to fuck off. But if any of you have a nice way of wording that, please let me know.

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10 thoughts on “Book Group Politics

  1. it seems like there’s double resentment here – resentment towards the woman who introduced you (what a snob, by the way) and resentment towards some of the members of the group. The first one you’ve got to let go, she’s gone, she was a bitch, forget about it. her loss.

    the second one may have a lot to do with other things. participation in the group may symbolize your independence from Sparky – maybe you’re nervous about telling them off because they symbolize your independence from him and you’re reluctant to let that go. whatever the case may be, you should get the heck out – they sound terrible. maybe you and the indian woman could meet on the side and actually have some fun with reading.

  2. Man, what a situation. However, I think you should get out of it and I actually find your simple, direct, to the point e-mail great. There is no need to continue going and torturing yourself just to continue feeling second rate. I think a quick e-mail such as that one will work just fine! And, it sounds like the way they treat you now can’t be too much worse than they would if you bow out of the group (assuming they aren’t the type to throw stones and spit on you in public, I think you’re ok).

  3. Yeah, the Brits are a terrible bunch, I’d steer well clear of them. And before I advise you to send that wonderfully pithy e-mail, can I self-proclaim myself as a reader of your blog.
    Now, you may not want to believe me, that I sit following each line slowly on the monitor with my finger speaking the words out loud, but it’s true.
    “Ah, you might read,” you say, “but do you understand?”
    Well it’s a bit trickier than the metaphysical poets, but I even managed to get the Boweltown gag (after about two months).

    I’ve had the same thing with an athletics group I joined when I first got here and was trying to meet people and they were just annoying – and yes the hugely overweight guy did ask me “but are you really a runner?” Running was practically the only thing I did outside work and that was the only running club. They were horrid, arrogant arseholes, but it still took me about eight months before I told them to fuck off.

  4. Dear Reading Ladies,

    While it’s been mighty nice to have made your acquaintence, I regret that I’ll be unable in the future to devote my time and energies to your reading group. It seems that my idea of what constitutes being a “real reader” and yours doesn’t mesh. When I read I want to be able to enjoy and be challenged by the imaginative telling of a story, compelling characters and sheer entertainment and escapism. You, on the other hand, seem to believe that reading should leave one looking for sharp instruments, rope and an available rafter.

    Fuck off. Please.

    Sincerely,

    Coolest Chick You’ll Ever Meet

    I said please. Does that qualify for nice wording?

  5. Jen, just say it simply (you don’t want to confuse them)

    * Fuck off & goodbye *

    Better said than written, and to be spoken with a big smile.

  6. Ah, you guys are too much! I LOVE all those suggestions, but I think your mail is perfect, Jen. You don’t owe those bags any explanation and it sounds like the group is really stressing you out.

    Wish you and I lived close enough to have a real life book group…

  7. Sally: You’re right. And now that I have even more independance, I no longer need to be there.

    A: they’re total I just want to leave with more self-confidence than I had being there. They won’t even care. I just want feel good about it.

    N: My mother had a ton of friends when i was growing up. Every single one of them was Briish (or Irish). Now that I think about it, that’s rather odd. I wonder if she hung out at the consulate or Kenneth of London hair salon? Anyway, these horrible people were always around from weekday wine hour after work to parties and gatherings. I guess I was naíve to think all Brits had a cunning sense of humor.

    Dixie: You Rock!! And I think the “please” really softens things up.

    Hadd: If only I were that brave. The leader would be so shocked I used such language – she didn’t understand why such language had to be used in fiction.

    Sparky: I love it when you try to talk like a southerner. Its way better than your Trenton, NJ affectation.

    Christina: Thanks. I’m sending it out today. Now maybe a reading group is not such a far fetched idea. Maybe instead of monthly, we can do it quarterly. rather than a few hours one night, we can make it a day thing. and we can switch houses so we all do the same amount of travelling. I’ll e-mail you.

    Thanks you guys. Only a slug of brandy could give me a similar warmth.

  8. Seems like everybody’s got your back already on this one, so I’m not sure how much this is worth anymore. I have a friend who had this same situation – two book groups, liked one hated the other, small expat world, didn’t want to piss people off. She did what you said – use the I don’t have time to commit to this right now excuse and she managed (as far as I can tell) a gracious exit.

    Life’s too short, get out while the getting’s good!

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