In the Netflix series Good Girls, three suburban Detroit housewives take to a life of crime when they find they can’t make ends meet despite having the kind of lifestyle that would, by Indian standards, seem almost lavish: huge houses, backyards, and walk-in closets. Without getting into the peculiarities of the American economy, let’s just say that a combination of bad debts, hospital bills and job losses forces these women, who have so far been champion knitters, crafters and soccer moms, to put on ski masks and rob a grocery store, their crimes getting increasingly more serious and daring, demanding that they step out of their homes often in the evenings for a quick forgery or hold-up job.
The standard excuse for their initially in-the-dark families? Book club meetings.
Clearly, book clubs are useful things. No one questions you when you say you are headed to your book club meeting, nodding seriously and clutching a copy of War And Peace (“we finally decided to tackle the classics”) or Nobel prize winner Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones Of The Dead (“her writing has a peculiar melancholic sweetness”). Spouses give way reverentially; children fall silent at the sight of mom or dad headed for an evening of culture; and friends who are not part of the book club withdraw gracefully and without grumbling when you cancel on them at the last minute with a hasty “sorry, book club meeting” text.
The basic purpose of a book club is, of course, to read and discover books; good books, new ones, old ones, ones you have pretended to have read but have only read two reviews of; the one that has been lying in your Kindle for years and seems to mock you every time you flip past it. But book clubs are also a fantastic way to have a great party while feeling like you are doing something virtuous and worthwhile—the social equivalent of a health drink that actually tastes good.
So for this party special issue of Lounge, here’s your Ask Me Anything guide to being part of a sensational book club that will give you a legitimate reason to get out of the house once a month, go to someone else’s lovely home, get delightfully tipsy on the half bottle of gin you carried with you (or the other tipples on offer), order in after some heated debate over choice of cuisine or guiltily reach for the last prawn canapé someone has conscientiously brought, and shout at the top of your voice because your point, of course, is the one that will shine a bright light on the book under discussion; the one others will be turning over in their heads for days to come. Sometimes you don’t even need to read the book.
How to select members: In the beginning, take in everyone who will ask to be part of it. Most book clubs these days start as Facebook groups, and god knows those have gotten out of hand. Slowly but surely, though, natural selection will weed out the totally non-serious, the creeps, the fanatical sci-fi fans who will push a hard-core The Three-Body Problem-level book every month, and the first-time authors who are only there to talk about their own book. Eventually, you will be left with a core group of 12-15 people like yourself who have about equal amounts of commitment to discussing books and drinking good wine—the ideal mix.
How to select a book of the month: Some book club moderators are autocratic and will select a book and announce it. That’s not the best way to go about it. The end of every book club meeting should be reserved for robust debate about the choice of the next book, and if that means you end up with a questionable choice such as the latest British Gone Girl wannabe chick-lit masquerading as thriller, so be it. Chalk it up to experience.
How to attend without having read the book: Don’t worry, we have all been there. That’s what Wikipedia is for. On your way to the meeting—don’t drive—read up the Wikipedia article on the book, a couple of reviews and interviews with the author, and if possible, ask your friend in the book club to text you a couple of points. You would be surprised by how much you can fake. I once successfully convinced people that I had read My Brilliant Friend simply by talking at length about an article I had just Googled on Elena Ferrante’s true identity. Digressions are the life-blood of book club meetings. If all else fails, bring up the latest UP police scandal/bitcoins/Omicron/Succession/the Elizabeth Holmes trial (the book club once read Bad Blood).
How to conduct the evening: This is the most crucial part. To jump into discussion as soon as you have a decent quorum would be gauche. The first hour should be reserved for catching up—beginning with how long it took everyone to get there, especially if you are in Bengaluru—followed by a thorough analysis of social media posts by members—who said what on Twitter, whose Instagram story almost went viral, which ex-members said a terrible thing on Facebook…. Only then should you get down to discussing the book at hand. The best way is to go round in a circle, with each member talking about what they liked/disliked about the book—but be wary of the person who jumps in with a “comment” and takes the floor for an hour. Also try not to roll your eyes too hard at the Eng. Lit. major who will bring in Post-Modern Literary Theory and throw around terms like “ontological” and “picaresque” at the drop of a hat. There will also be at least one person who hasn’t read the book, as they openly admit, and will vigorously avoid parts of the discussion that could be considered spoilers. Create a spoiler-free zone for them and withhold food and drink.
Summary of the evening: One person should be asked to volunteer/be bullied into taking notes of the meeting that can be shared among members of the book group the next day. Make sure they are well-fed and watered, though not too well, or the summary will be incomprehensible. Having once taken notes, I can attest to this. I am still trying to figure out what “X says book magical though not Harry Potter BTW what happened to Rowling ok to read?” means.