Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book Club

Wednesday morning my new book club met for the first time at my friend M.’s house in Ntinda. M. had created the group with two other Dutch women, whom I had never met before, and they had chosen What is the What by Dave Eggers before I got involved. Having read the book last year, I spent Monday and Tuesday quickly skimming through the story. In my book wrap-up (link) I failed to mention that my hardcover copy of the book, a Christmas present last year from J, was misprinted. When I got to the last 20 pages, I discovered that every other spread of pages was blank. Just when everything was getting all wrapped up! I had no idea what finally happened to the beleaguered Valentino Achek Deng. At the time I considered writing to McSweeney’s to complain and hopefully get a new book, but I had just moved to Uganda. Where would they send the book? When would I actually get it? Plus, just before leaving for Uganda, I had spent some quality email time with a guy from McSweeney’s customer service (Are they big enough to have customer service? It might have just been some guy who worked there – god knows what his real job was.) about how the copy of The Children’s Hospital I had ordered from them had got lost in the mail and how I was leaving soon and they couldn’t resend it to my office since I no longer worked there and they would have to send it to my parent’s house since it would probably arrive after I had left for Uganda. I already had one enormous McSweeney’s hardcover waiting at home for me, I didn’t feel I needed a second. So I never found out what happened.

Fast forward nearly a year and I am sitting in M.’s living room with M., the two Dutch women, and one of their British friends who is visiting from London. Everyone has read exactly two thirds of the book. No one has reached the end. I am destined not to know how this book ends.

However, we still had a lovely conversation about the book. I enjoyed it perhaps more than anyone else, giving it four stars out of five, while the others gave it three or three and a half stars. Not a huge difference, but I still felt myself somewhat distanced from their reactions. The others said they had difficulty getting into the book, while I picked it up and read it straight through, pretty much fascinated the entire time. Even this second time around, I read the first sentence and thought, that’s a fantastic first sentence. “I have no reason not to open the door so I open the door.” Who’s behind the door? What’s he letting in? It’s evocative and symbolic and sets up a lot of questions. But how to account for the difference in responses between me and the other members of my group?

After reading through my 2007 round-up of books, N. remarked that I seemed to have read a lot of books I loved, that I was very enthusiastic about almost all of the books I had read last year. Am I perhaps too generous in my praise of books? In realizing how difficult it is to write my own novel, have I become overly empathetic to other writers, forgiving them their faults, overlooking their inadequacies while I delight—perhaps too much—in their victories of prose and structure?

Next up is On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. We’ll have to wait and see.

1 comment:

Scarlett Lion said...

I have a copy!! You can borrow... and finally we'll get around to meeting!!