The book discussion climate in your household or extended family may be far from ideal: she will read nothing published later than Wuthering Heights, he will read nothing before Gary Shteyngart, the cousin in rehab will read only Barbara Pym and those two books by Alice Thomas Ellis the library doesn’t have, and the nieces and nephews read nothing but 50 Shades of Grey and The Annotated Dracula.
The only thing to do is pretend you don’t read. And that’s why you need to join an online or face-to-face Coven of Desperate Readers (i.e., book groups).
One new and fascinating place to pick your book group selections is Emily Books, a virtual bookstore that sells only one book a month. At this all e- store, books are selected by the two founders who met working in publishing. You can subscribe for $150 to receive a free book every month, or buy one at a time. Apparently there are also e-discussions for subscribers.
The choices have been interesting, among them a collection of stories, Glory Goes and Gets Some, by Emily Carter, the daughter of Anne Roiphe; Muriel Spark’s Loitering with Intent; and Ellen Willis’s collection of essays, No More Nice Girls.
I did read the Emily Books September selection, Maidenhead by the Canadian writer Tamara Faith Berger. If you like your fiction filtered through the eyes of Hegel, Simone Weill, Michel Houellebecq, Clarise Lispector, and Bataille, this literary novel about porn is for you. The adolescent narrator, Myra, on a vacation with her family to Key West, falls in love with Elijah, a beautiful older Rashta musician from Tanzania. Before you know it, she’s in his room learning oral sex, being urinated on, and submitting to intercourse with Elijah’s flute.
This is a far from sexy novel, told from the viewpoint of a desensitized teenager, who spends much of her time masturbating to internet porn. She is subjected to various forms of degradation by Elijah and his girlfriend, Gayl, which she tries to justify as “liberation porn.” Then she writes a paper about her own masochism and exploitation without understanding the degradation. She reads philosophy, and tries to justify sex slavery. She writes: “Pornography links up the internal, the external and the fantastical ways that we are not yet in the world with the ways that we might very well be.”
This is one of those spare, affectless, detached novels with an unreliable narrator that succeeds, in a way, but is horrifying, depressing, and perhaps unclear if you are not a big fan of Houellebecq.
If Emily Books selections are too stark for you, here is something more interesting to the “average” book group: the literary magazine Tin House Bookclub in a Box for $100, which includes “five or ten copies of Alexis Smith’s new novel, Glaciers, some Earl Grey tea, book club questions, vintage postcards, and Skype for your book club with Alexis Smith. Doesn’t that sound charming?
Do you like online book groups? There are thousands of enjoyable discussions at Yahoo, GoodReads, and elsewhere.
And if you like your discussions blog-style, there are hundreds of blog reading “challenges.” I don’t participate in these events, which I refer to as bloggers-reading-bloggers, but they pop up constantly, and even I have heard about the R.I.P. challenge, much touted by bloggers, which involves reading all things “ghostly and ghastly,” leaving comments, and rushing around to the 200 participating blogs to leave YET more comments.
If you have any book group recommendations, let me know.