Since my novel hit the shelves in September, I’ve been attending kind strangers’ book clubs, enjoying their pot-luck dinners, drinking their pinot noir, hanging out on their couches, and befriending the members. Whenever I hear that someone’s book club might be discussing my book, I say, “I’m available! Invite me!” If the book club isn’t local, I offer a speakerphone chat. I hate the thought that some book club in Kansas might be discussing Who By Fire, while I’m at home in New York, missing all the fun. I love book clubs. Love, love, love. It’s the kind of love I could doodle about on the side of my sneaker or on the surface of my desk. DS + BC 4eva.
“Wow,” one of my author friends said to me. “I get invited to those, but I never go. It’s fun?”
“Fun!” I said. “It’s outrageously fun!”
“Why?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.
I wasn’t sure. But I figured it out a couple of days ago, when my four-year-old niece climbed into my lap and told me, “Say, ‘You’re gorgeous.’”
“You’re gorgeous,” I told her.
“Say, ‘You’re beautiful.’”
She smiled coyly, as if to say, Oh, stop with the compliments; I’m blushing.
I realized it is a similar impulse (like aunt, like niece?) that compels me to seek out book clubs. I like to be the equivalent of an adult chaperone on what would otherwise be a hot date. If I’m in the room, no one can say a bad word about my book. All they can do, really, is talk about the parts they liked. “You’re gorgeous,” they have to tell me. “You’re beautiful.” Sometimes I can literally see someone in the group struggling to phrase her thoughts in a way that won’t offend me. And sometimes that makes me feel kind of guilty, like I’m a big black censor over a pair of nipples, a BEEP over the word “fuck.”
But then I think: Go ahead, honey, struggle. Find a way to turn, “I wasn’t crazy about this particular chapter” into, “Diana, you are gorgeous.”
Recently, I was asked to do a book club at a retirement home. I was so excited. After all, old people are generally doting, and I would be about the age of their grandchildren. They would look at me and feel protective and nurturing. They would say, “Your book is a masterpiece.” They would stick it on the fridge with a magnet. They would have it reduced to wallet-size so they could show it off to their friends.
The book club was held around a long wooden table in the library of the retirement home. The members (all women) trickled in, dressed to the nines in khaki pants over stockings and slippers, or smart appliqué sweat suits. When everyone was seated, one more woman entered the room. “I’m late!” she said, rushing—to the extent that an old person can rush—to an open seat, which happened to be next to mine. She had curly white hair and big purple plastic earrings. She settled in beside me, took my hand in both of hers, gave me an enormous smile, and leaned in close. She gazed into my eyes. She sighed.
I love you, too, I almost said.
“You’re the author?” she said.
“I am,” I said.
Her smile got even wider. “Honey,” she said.
“I hated your book.”
“I hated it.”
“Oh,” I said. I pulled my hand back like she’d bitten a chunk out of it. “Um,” I said, thinking of the eight graphic sex scenes, “did it offend you?”
“No,” she said cheerfully. “I hated it because it was bad.”
Well, all righty then.
I left the retirement home book club with a negative attitude. “I’m never doing another book club!” I said to the empty parking lot. “Never! Never! Never!”
But of course, that was a lie. I have two book clubs scheduled for this week alone. And I can’t wait. I’ve already selected a bottle of wine for each host. I’ve already started fantasizing about the home-cooked meals.
After all, if your boyfriend tells you your butt looks fat, do you swear off men for the rest of your life? No. You find a new boyfriend, one who will tell you you’re perfect. Or you wear slimming colors and get your hair done and give your boyfriend death stares until he apologizes. With roses. And a card that says, “Did I say fat? I meant beautiful and gorgeous.”
Diana, thank you for coming by. DS +BC 4eva! Love that. If you enjoy Diana’s writing, why not become a fan! Join Facebook, search for “Diana Spechler” and then click on the “Become a Fan” link.
Diana Spechler, author of Who By Fire