General Lunacy

Why I’m Afraid to Join a Book Club, and Other Social Anxieties

Continuing the theme of “Confessions Week,” today’s secret will probably shock you more than the previous ones because it’s a conjunction between fear, humanity’s most crippling emotion, and reading, my favorite activity in whole the world besides coffee.

What do fear and reading have in common? Book clubs.

Book clubs. Sounds harmless, huh? But they’re not. They’re hotbeds of self-recrimination and regret.

Let me back up and explain.

Book clubs are kind of a thing now. Everyone who’s anyone is in a book club. It’s the hip thing to do.

They appear to be the premiere way in which thinking individuals who enjoy reading may give and receive intellectual stimulation. They also function as an outlet through which to share the joy that is books, which is only superseded by true love and possibly the birth of a child.

I’ve toyed around with the idea of joining a book club in the year since I graduated, but as of yet have resisted the temptation. I hesitate every time I come across an opportunity.

I mean, it seems like the next logical step for me, an alumna of a graduate literature program, to find a book club and dig in, right? After all, how else am I going to keep my brain in check so I don’t blow up a building or launder money out of intellectual frustration or mental dissipation? I should join a book club, if only to keep sane. And to talk about books, because repressing emotions is not good for the psyche and OH MY GOSH I LOVE BOOKS SO MUCH.

So why haven’t I yet done so?

Please hold your observations about my laziness until the end. Thank you.

Partly, I am a little scared to participate in a book club, and this apprehension subconsciously manifests itself as excuses to not do it.

Scared, you ask? You wrote a thesis. You’ve participated in seminars for ten years, freely deconstructing Hamlet in front of very educated individuals. You even presented a topic at Graduate Research Day. What could possibly scare you?

Eh…this is embarrassing, too…

I don’t want to look like a know-it-all. Or an over-educated pompous ass (the two go hand-in-hand, trust me).

I’ve only studied literature in an academic setting, and I don’t know how normal people (i.e., people who have not thrown away thousands of dollars on a college education that consists solely of reading and writing about reading, which has no bearing on their present day reality) talk about books.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible for me to read Emma without commenting on the narrative free indirect discourse, or discuss Frankenstein without bringing up the Victorian mores of social responsibility and Kenneth Branagh’s womb conception in the creation of the monster, or talk about Fifty Shades of Grey without making inappropriate jokes and providing an outline of puns. Although that would be a fun/sick book club.

I could try to talk down a level (once again, I sound like a pompous ass! I hate this!), but I’m not sure how to do that without sounding like a lunatic or worse, a smart girl playing dumb. Dumb doesn’t come easily to me unless we’re talking about computers or algebra or diplomatic solutions to the Middle East.

It’s basically every brainy girl’s dilemma – she’s not supposed to be smart, so she dumbs herself down. Then feels like shit for playing those belittling mind-games with herself.

Or maybe it’s all in my head! Maybe normal people who didn’t go to college for ten years all talk about how Walpole laid the foundation for the horror novel as we know it, and I am just a pompous ass!

See? I just don’t know. I’ve been enclosed in an academic bubble for a decade, drinking coffee by the quart and wearing a uniform of denim and flannel.


So knowing the full brunt of this probably irrational anxiety, I feel like I can tell you about my recent participation in an online book club, just to be able to anonymously dip my toe in without taking the full plunge. My first comment to the Twitter book-club feed:

“I really identify with the main character.”

That was it.

Duh, Natalie, everyone’s supposed to identify the main character in this book, it’s a Bildungsroman.

At least, that’s what I was telling myself as everyone ignored my BRILLIANT [insert sarcastic eye-roll here] observation and talked about more meaty topics like narrative reliability.

I was 0-for-1. My dwindling confidence drained away.

I crawled into my internet hole and did not rejoin the next session.

But I’ll try again, maybe next time with real people so I can read facial cues and pretend I’m  joking when I sound idiotic, or at least get some appetizers out of it. People have to be polite to my face, right? And don’t they usually serve spinach dip at book clubs?


  • Lindsey

    Natalie, I would love it if you came to MY book club! It’s the first one I’ve ever been a part of and people cycle in and out, but it’s always fun. And whoever hosts makes dinner and somebody’s always pregnant so there’s always bubbly water and other fun alcohol free beverages. I can see Rhea’s point, but it all depends on who’s sitting around the living room. Granted, there are times when it is all about the wine/apfelschorle and not everybody finished the book, but other times there’s really intriguing conversation and personal confessions.

    Either way, there are others out there who swing to the more intellectual side of things waiting to find people like them. But of course nobody HAS to join one, and frankly I’m a little put off now that I know it’s the thing to do. I tend to back away from such things.

    But my spinach dip is hot and has bacon in it, just so you know.

    • Natalie the Singingfool

      I guess I just haven’t stumbled upon people like that too much in my neck of the woods. I’ll come to your book club – it’s only like a fifteen hour flight from LAX, right? 😉 The spinach dip with bacon in it alone sounds worth the trip!!

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