By: Mary Fran Bontempo

To hear an audio version of this post, click the play arrow below.


How does something that’s supposed to be fun turn into a stomach-churning, anxiety inducing, “Oh, please don’t tell me that’s tonight,” event?

Recently, in an attempt to expand my horizons (read: get out of a sink hole-like rut), I decided to get involved in a new activity. It sounded like a good idea at the time and was something I’ve been meaning to work into my life for ages. I thought it would be fun, but almost from the outset, any thought of said activity has caused me to break out into a cold sweat and immediately begin thinking up excuses as to why I just can’t do it this month.

I’m not talking about sky diving; I’m talking about a book club.

An avid reader, I’ve wanted to join a book club forever. I figured joining a group of like-minded women would guarantee me a regular outing that combined the intellectual pursuit of reading with the more hedonistic pleasures of wine, food and good company.

After one or two failed attempts, I discovered that some friends whom I don’t see regularly have been meeting with women in their neighborhood for several years. When I mentioned my interest, they enthusiastically invited me to join them. “Great,” I thought, “What could go wrong?”

Turns out, plenty.

The first reading assignment was for not one, but two books. As I later learned, when there’s not unanimous agreement on the next book choice, more than one title is often recommended. Which would likely not be a problem if you got the books right away and actually read them on time. Which I didn’t. So, I skipped my first meeting, not wanting to show up as an unprepared newbie and make a bad impression.

The next month, I made sure I finished the book, Stephen King’s 11/22/63, an 800 plus pager, a few days before the meeting. Despite its length, it wasn’t exactly the Odyssey, so I figured, “Okay, I got this.” Wrong again.

I walked into the home of that night’s hostess and just stared. Ahead of me was a display table artfully covered with dozens of pieces of paper. Some named the novel’s characters, others held memorable quotes or longer passages from the book and still others were photographs of celebrities who might play the characters should the book be made into a film. Questions to facilitate the later discussion were also available.

Then, there was the food. My idea of book club grub was wine, munchies and at some point, chocolate, as in some Hershey’s Kisses or a few boxes of Raisinets, which is about as much as I’m capable of throwing together on any given night. However, the evening’s menu (yes, it was a menu), was baked flounder with crab, green beans almondine, rice and Caesar salad. Dessert consisted of individual parfaits, as well as the pitiful cookie bars I had brought as a first time guest.

The after dinner discussion, led by the hostess, was a round table format, everyone polled for their thoughts and opinions. No abstaining, simply listening or outright hiding allowed, although apparently hyper-ventilating is acceptable as no one blinked while I gasped for air.

Three hours, several cross-examinations and a really divine meal later, I was exhausted. I haven’t felt so much angst since the last time someone handed me a college blue book and told me I had an hour to catalogue every detail I recalled about James Joyce and his completely unintelligible “masterpiece,” Ulysses. (I had a headache for three solid weeks when I had to read that book.)

At the meeting’s end, I practically ran from the house, marginally relieved to have escaped with a passing grade until the realization that I would have to host a gathering myself almost made my knees buckle.
I’m still looking to expand my horizons, but I’m leaning towards other, less stressful options.

Who knows, maybe I’ll try skydiving after all.

Are you a book club member? Click “comments” below and share!