I absolutely adore my “book club.”
I use book club in quotes because my particular book club isn’t exactly serious. It’s a group of some of my oldest friends, and is a big excuse to get together and catch up. For about four years now we have rotated hanging out at people’s houses, talking about pretty much everything except the selected book. We are all huge readers, and one of us is even a librarian. We often talk about other books, and books in general. We just don’t feel very wedded to the idea of discussing the particular book chosen for that particular “meeting”.
Since the book isn’t really the main event at book club, it often gets unread. I’m pretty sure that one of my friends hasn’t read a single one of the book club books; we love her anyway. I do try to generally read the book club selection. I read too much to have any excuses, and it’s interesting to see what your friends recommend. So recently I dutifully downloaded Life of Pi from the library, and gave it a shot. And about a quarter of the way through, gave it up.
And for some reason I feel terrible about it.
My philosophy is that life is too short to read books you aren’t enjoying. But my definition of enjoyment has changed throughout my life, and that’s been my biggest problem with cutting this book loose. I wasn’t not enjoying Life of Pi. It was a little slow, but it was interesting. It contained beautiful, prosaic descriptions of religion that were both moving and fascinating. I was told it would get more exciting if I had a little patience.
That kind of thing doesn’t have a place in my life right now. This winter – vacillating between heavy snowfall and bitter cold – does not mean curling up with a blanket, tea, and vaguely esoteric literature. It means limping through every day with spazzy, under-exercised children, and piling everyone into the 20-minute gauntlet of coats, hats, and mittens just to take a desperate trip to the grocery store. It means getting to the end of the day with the odd combination of weary and stir crazy.
Not to mention that even on the good days, I read in 5- or 10- or 2-minute increments, especially now that the beautifully coordinated dual naptime that I so effortfully created has evaporated into a thing of the past.
No, I have very little patience or mental energy to read with the aim to appreciate writing and ponder ideas, except perhaps in food literature.
At different points in my life, I have needed and wanted different things from reading. Six years ago, when I had a fairly routine corporate job with a long commute, and longed for some academic intellectual stimulation? Life of Pi would have fit in quite well then. I have had phases where I’ve been sad or anxious, and needed thrillers or chick lit as pure fun escapism. Right now, I just want to be engrossed. The things I’m enjoying reading span genre and writing style, but the thing they have in common is that I am gripped by them.*
So why do I feel so bad about dropping this particular book? It’s not out of any responsibility to my book club. Our next meeting will also function as our annual Oscar Party, and someone is bringing a new baby, which means I’m pretty sure there will be a five-minute token conversation about the book at best. After all, there are dresses to critique and babies to cuddle!
I have no problem cutting loose books that I think are poorly written or uninteresting, or even just not my cup of tea. I have a much harder time with books that I probably would have liked at a different point in life, that I think are worth my time, that I feel with a little more patience might even be what I want now. Which is why stopping this one was hard. But I did, because for me, someone to whom reading is like eating breakfast or breathing air, it needed to go back to being instinctive rather than forced.
All of this reminded me of this article, which I read a week or two ago. It’s main point is that when it comes to choosing what to read, we don’t need to select from a prescribed list of things that we “should” read, based on our previous interests. Reading should be more intuitive, loose, free. You should want to be reading what you are reading right now, and should trust your instincts on what that is.
So even though my Type A demon is poking and prodding me with recriminations and vague guilt, I am saying goodbye to Life of Pi, perhaps not forever but at least for right now. And I’m going to enjoy my current book selections, guilt free.
*So what is gripping me? This piece of awesome-ness.
It is a middle grade kids book that basically re-tells original Grimm’s fairy tales in all their weirdness and gore. It’s witty and humorous and exciting and has that magical Pixar quality of being sincerely funny and adventurous for kids while a little bit sly and tongue-in-cheek for adults. The Panda is fascinated by the cover. She keeps asking me to read this to her. (The answer is no: as you can tell by the bloody sword Gretel is holding, it’s not for three-year-olds.) She described the cover as looking like “Snow White …. and friends.”
So yeah, I ditched the adult philosophical book for something gory aimed at sixth graders. I am obviously very mature.