Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Which book has the dodo? We don't all agree.

"The new creature names everything that comes along, before I can get in a protest. And always that same pretext is offered--it looks like the thing. There is the dodo, for instance. Says the moment one looks at it one sees at a glance that it 'looks like a dodo.' It will have to keep that name, no doubt. It wearies me to fret about it, and it does no good, anyway. Dodo! It looks no more like a dodo than I do."
Mark Twain thus described about Adam's reaction to a new creature in the Garden of Eden, namely Eve, in "The Diaries of Adam and Eve," a tongue-in-cheek take on the first couple's discovery of the world around them. Also, perhaps, an indicator of the future.
One would do well to remember Adam's dismay at Eve's insistence on naming (or renaming) each and every plant, animal or aspect of life she encounters to her own liking. She's certain about her choices; he's bewildered. Sounds familiar.
In book clubs, we're all Adams and Eves, regardless of gender. So when members believe their opinion of motivation, theme or denouement is absolutely correct (just because it "looks like a dodo") others may take offense. Strident arguments ensue, while other members, like Adam, acquiesce; they're the ones taking it all in and thinking about another aspect of the book—or what they'll eat when they go home.
If  your group has mostly Eves, you may be doomed to months of dispute, in which no one's opinion is altered. But in fairness, opinion is up for grabs. Only the author knows what he or she intended (maybe). While taking the discussion far afield of the author's intentions may be amusing, or even instructive, it is also likely to discourage conversation among those who think otherwise. Done with a sense of fairness and humor, disagreement is pleasant. But I think out-of-control disputes affect membership—negatively.
So how do you decide whether Adam or Eve's take is correct?
Sometimes, you don't. One person's guess is as good as the next, so respect them all, basically, as legitimately formed and offered. Still, a riot may ensue.
The Opinionated Ladies Book Club, a group of proudly outspoken women in Gainesville, Fla., has been profiled in the Gainesville Sun. Early on, the group initiated some loose rules to keep order. Members usually pick a printed question about the book from a container passed around the room; that generally guides the conversation around the book, rather than 500 other topics of interest to members that day. The group also has a handy bell nearby, and when the conversation gets out of control, and a self-selected Eve is holding forth in a loud voice, that little bell rings—a signal to restore order.
I remember reading an essay by someone who quit her book group after other members universally pronounced the selection despicable, complaining loudly that Oprah could pick such a bad book! (Considering that the book was "One Hundred Years of Solitude," she may have been in the wrong group for her taste.)  
You may have to search for the right group. If you utterly hate chick lit, for instance, joining a group that's going to select one half the time is a mistake. Keep looking. In the main, most clubs have a loyal base of people who tend to like each other well enough to keep meeting. The reading list may turn off some members, but there's always room to grow. I've generally found that others' selections have brought me to titles I would not otherwise have picked up, so I'm grateful for being introduced to them. When my own group, the Off-Track Bookies, picks a book I don't have time to read, I'll sometimes skip the meeting, or go there to see if the discussion interests me sufficiently to check it out later. I've seen members ask others to warn them when a plot spoiler is just ahead, so they can leave the room.
Adam and Eve never had a book club, or they might have killed each other. But at least we can read Twain and find out how they learned to get along, in his wry view.
B.J. Novak in Hartford
Field trip time: Actor B.J. Novak, screenwriter, author, co-producer and a regular cast member of "The Office" will appear at a benefit for The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Conn., at 7 p.m., Feb. 20, in the Aetna auditorium in Hartford. He'll talk about his life and career, and his recently published book, "One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories." There are different charges, so see the Mark Twain Museum website for details.
 Area book group meetings
The book group at Worcester Public Library meets the second Wednesday, 3-4 p.m. and the second Saturday of the month, 11:30-12:30 p.m. in the third floor elipse. This month's selection is Anne Stuart's "Black Ice." Interested members are invited to meet Stuart at the book club's kickoff event, Feb. 14.
The next meeting of the Douglas Library Book Group will focus on Kate Horsley’s "Confessions of a Pagan Nun" at 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 10. A sixth-century cloistered Irish nun secretly records the memories of her Pagan youth, rather than transcribing Augustine. Gwynneve writes of her village's pigkeepers and fishermen, of her fiercely independent mother, whose skill with healing plants and inner strength she inherited. She writes of her druid teacher, who introduced her to the mysteries of written language. But disturbing events at the cloister intervene and as the monastery is rent by vague and fantastic accusations, Gwynneve's words become the one force that can save her from annihilation. Call the library, 508-476-2695, for a copy of the book. New members welcome. Homemade refreshments, inspired by the title being discussed, will be served.
The NOW Women's Issues Book Group will meet at 7 p.m., Feb. 9 to discuss Karen Joy Fowler's "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves." The group meets at the Barnes & Noble bookstore, 541 Lincoln St., Worcester. Members will also recap "From A to X" by John Berger, as last month's meeting was cancelled due to weather. Meetings are free and open to the public.