For a time, I was a member of three different book groups. I was proud of this; when people asked if I—a writer—belonged to a book club, I could answer, “I’m in three” and see a reaction of surprise (though really, I soon realized, there are lots of people who belong to multiple groups.)
Starting about a year ago, though, I had to admit that I was attending just two of those clubs; for some reason (I seemed always to be out of town or have a conflict) I kept missing the third one. It took a bit longer for me to realize that in fact I was avoiding it.
Before I continue this story I should give you some background. I’m a fiction writer who also has a PhD. in literature, so I’ve spent much of my life reading and discussing books with others. I never felt the need to join a club, per se. But then, years ago, at a wedding, I happened to be sitting with friends of the bride who were in a book club for which they were reading Far From the Madding Crowd. When I mentioned that I loved Thomas Hardy, they said why not come to the meeting? I did, and I’ve been part of this group—a small but committed one—ever since. We read everything: classics, biographies, contemporary fiction, fiction in translation. It’s thanks to this group that I first learned what a wonderful experience a book club can be.
Around the same time, some university friends--mostly professors--decided to start a club of their own. I joined that too and, as with the first group, found myself enjoying books I might not have picked up on my own: Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness; Gary Shteyngart’s The Russian Debutante’s Handbook; Robert Graves’ I, Claudius.
Then, at a university function a few years ago, I found myself chatting with the woman seated next to me. When she learned that I was a writer, she told me about her book club. The topic, she explained, was Holocaust literature.
My father is a Holocaust survivor. Telling this to my new acquaintance, it occurred to me that I tend to avoid most books or movies on this topic. Sure, there was a period in my early teens when I read anything morbid, including plenty of Holocaust and WWII novels. But since then I’ve avoided the subject.
In fact, it struck me that I’d set my novel Russian Winter, about artists persevering under communism, in postwar Moscow, a place absolutely foreign to me, rather than culling my own family’s material. I’d taken what I knew of my father’s life in Hungary—the hardships he and my grandmother faced before, during and after WWII—and transferred it to fictional characters in another setting. I’d taken what I knew of my grandmother’s suffering under the increasingly harsh measures against Jews in the 1930s and '40s and transferred it to my fictional character Gersh, the Jewish composer who, in my novel, bears the brunt of Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign.
Talk about avoidance.
And so I decided to join the Holocaust book group. We read mainly nonfiction, though occasionally a novel made the cut. Each book was a history lesson, and for a while I read voraciously. But then I began to find myself “too busy.” I borrowed the books from the library and returned them unread. Next I was travelling, and had taken a new job. I told the group that I would rejoin when my schedule opened up.
But I haven't gone back. And it’s only as I write this that I realize why. The subject matter is something I can take only occasionally. Perhaps I’m still avoiding it. Perhaps I’ll eventually return to the group.
Or perhaps I’ll write about it myself one day.
I am so grateful to Ms. Kalotay for writing this wonderful guest post about her experiences with her book clubs. If you are interested in participating in a future Book Club Exchange, please contact me at bookingmama(at)gmail(dot)com.
Make sure you stop by tomorrow because I will be
Book Reviews - Review and Interview 8/30/10
Book Loons - Giveaway 9/2/10
Bookin' With Bingo - Review & Giveaway 9/2/10
She Is Too Fond of Books - Review and Spotlight on Bookstores 9/2/10
Lisa's Other Bookshelf - Review 9/5/10
Bookin' With Bingo - Interview 9/6/10
S. Krishna's Books - Review & Giveaway 9/7/10
Book Club Girl - Review 9/7/10
Beth Fish Reads - Review 9/8/10
Reading Group Guides - Guest Post 9/8/10
Reading the Past -Review 9/9/10
Sophisticated Dorkiness - Review 9/12/10
Lori's Reading Corner - Review 9/13/10
Living Read Girl - Review 9/14/10