The Token Jew of My Book Club

Last spring I described my inability to find a book club where my book-freak ways were welcomed with open arms.

To recap my saga, I’d always joined groups where everyone was similar to me (as in, Jewish and around the same age).  As a newcomer to the Twin Cities, I thought the groups I started or joined would be an easy way to make friends. Good idea for some people, but it didn’t work in my case.

You see, just like any social woman, I love hearing about everyone’s lives, talking about the shows we’re watching, and catching up in general, but what I wanted in a book club was a shared love of reading. I like a book club where the members not only love to read, but also want to talk about the books. I mean really discuss them–like speaking over each other and having to eventually cut off the conversation when it gets too late kind of discussing. Yes, I’m all kinds of cool like that.

It won’t surprise you that my uber-passion for discussing novels made me unpopular in casual book clubs. Once I was even publicly chastised (via a group email) for ruining the ending of the book for those who hadn’t found time in the six-week hiatus since the previous meeting to finish. I quit that particular book club and have since felt skittish about joining any others.

But hold everything! I have great news. I recently found a book club that accepts me! Not only do they tolerate my “let’s remember to discuss the book” leanings, but I think they actually like my quirky ways. And–you won’t believe my dumb luck–they want me bring the conversation back on track when it veers. Truly, it’s a dream come true for any book club purist.

How did I pull off this unexpected plot twist? I found a book club where there’s only one other Jew. Yes, I’m crediting my book club’s success to the lack of Jews who belong to our literature loving crew. Chuptzadik and unpolitically correct, I know. Doesn’t make it less true.

Turns out my chosen people for a book club are not, well, the chosen people

Now don’t get all defensive, you guys. Let’s be honest: put a group of Jewish women about the same age in a room and here’s what we might discuss instead of the book: ANYTHING ELSE. Even when we’re all different ages we start with the Jewish geography or the synagogue happenings, and it’s impossible to refocus.

In my new group, we have precisely one thing in common aside from the proximity of our houses: the book we all read for that particular meeting. Two months ago we discussed Jennifer Haigh’s Faith, a novel about a priest accused of molestation. With readers of different religious views, ages, and general backgrounds, the discussion was fascinating. In fact, all of our discussions have been fascinating.
I’m one of two token Jews in the group, and I couldn’t be happier. Despite our differences, I’ve finally found the one book club where I belong.
How about the rest of you: Does your book club work? Why or why not? Are you ever the “token” representative in a group? 
(Photo: Carlos Porto)
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About Nina Badzin @NinaBadzin

Nina Badzin is a Minneapolis-based essayist, short story writer, and a mother of four. You can also find her blogging regularly at http://ninabadzin.com. Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/NinaBadzinBlog. Twitter: @NinaBadzin

Comments. Add Yours!

34 comments

  1. Your chosen people line made me giggle.

    I have yet to find a book club group where I’ve made an attempt to join in, mostly because I know enough about the people to know I would be, well, you in those groups. 🙂

    Glad you found the right group for you!

  2. I’m glad you’ve found your place Nina. I could write a similar piece about mommy groups. Still searching.

  3. Once again I laughed and almost spit coffee on my keyboard. Hey that might be a new hashtag for me #nerdhazards.
    I think you make a great point about book clubs – diversity. If the one common thread that pulls you together (beside proximity) is the love of books that you’re really setting yourself up for great discussion because everyone brings something different to the table. My favorite/most memorable book club meetings are the ones where discussions get heated (like To Kill a Mockingbird where I had to restrained myself from smacking someone who defended the right of the author to write and circulate that book A pedophiles guide).
    That said there are certain books our fearless leader won’t pick. Either because she loves them so much she doesn’t want to hear that anyone else doesn’t love them or that she thinks they will cause too much controversy.
    I wish we were closer; I’d love to be in a book club with you 🙂

  4. Yeah, it’s not fun to be me in the wrong group. I don’t even like myself in those cases. Keep looking though. You never know!

  5. You mean like a play group? Yes, that takes the right mix too. The best thing is when you can actually move beyond talking about sleep schedules, food, etc, and move on to other parts of your lives.

  6. We would really be the best book club members together. Two nerds unite! 🙂

    P.S. Trying to connect the dots from Mockingbird to the pedophile book . . . ?

  7. Former book group sounds yucky. I totally hear you, and love your analysis – politically correct or not! So happy you found your book crew!

  8. I think you’re absolutely right that diversity is key. I belong to 4 book clubs (how’s that for nerdy!) and the discussion always seems to work best when the members are different from one another. My favorite club has a variety of ages, religions, ethnicities, bank accounts and backgrounds. We all just love to read and talk about books.

  9. My wife, Sue, belongs to a book club and she gets very enthusiastic about the books the club reads. What makes the discussion valuable and well directed is the quality of the facilitator. Get a good facilitator and you will have a good book club and good discussions and controlled behavior of the “combatants”. Being critical of spoiling the ending after 6 weeks of not reading the book would not be tolerated.

  10. Nina,
    So glad that you found a book club that you love!!! I wish I had time for that! At least I’m now finding time to read, though!! Always love your writing– you always make me laugh!

  11. Oh Nina I get exactly what you mean. And we’re supposed to be the people of the Book – but that’s with a capital B and not the general book club books.
    Put a bunch of us in the same room and, just as you said, we’ll talk about the kids, the shul, our aging parents, the Shabbat guests, recipe swapping…but the books…oh yeah that’s right this evening is book club…sorry.

    I haven’t had a ‘decent’ discussion on books since I stopped studying English lit.
    Good luck and enjoy
    Ann

  12. I’m just impressed that you have time to read!

  13. As individuals they were all great (well, maybe except the one who sent the nasty email.)

  14. You’re my kind of nerd!

  15. Nina, we are so glad you found us! I really think the different ages and religions make for interesting discussions. What you forgot to mention is that we are also all very bright, well read and on top of current events. Who is sounding full of herself now? You fit right in!

  16. Yes, a good facilitator is key, but often groups don’t have one. My mom’s group has a leader they pay–the group has been together for over 20 years.

  17. I love discussing books with you!

  18. Ha! So happy you found a book club, Nina, that actually allows you to talk about books! I’ve never been in a book club, so hadn’t given it much thought – but I can definitely see how a lot of them are probably more about the chatting and socializing.

  19. Oh we got into a discussion on censorship, because Mockingbird was pulled from certain schools. I was of the opinion that 99% of the time censorship is not ok, but there is always that 1% when it should be enforced. He was of the opinion that censorship is always bad. When I brought up the pedophile book his response was “I see no reason why it shouldn’t be published.” His reasoning was that only weirdos would buy it. At that point I was too angry to point out that it’s not a fictional book about pedophiles but a how to book, and why would we teach the weirdos how to hurt children? We never came to a concensus but it did make for lively discussions.

  20. Nina, an interesting perception. No, I’ve never been the “token” Italian. My book club is very mixed with race, religion and age. Four of us were in another book club that got a bit snarky over our inviting a member of our writer’s group. So we quit and started one of our own.

    The truth is that it has taken a lot of work to minimize chit-chat. The point is simple, if I want to chit-chat over lunch, I’ll do lunch. When I go to a book club I expect to talk books. This month we are talking about Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell and it should be a great discussion. Ever think that you aren’t a token anything, but just a fun gal with great instincts about books?

  21. Nina, you always write so well I love to read you. But… I beg to differ with your assessment; though I only joined one book club here, (and people created dishes around the theme of the book) and we DID discuss the book, it was helmed by a Jewish woman and there was a mix of all religious and non-religious persuasions. (How’s that for a run-on sentence?) I do just think it depends on the mind-set of the people involved, whatever their persuasions may be… but I do always enjoy reading whatever you have to say. And congratulations on finding a wonderful book club!

  22. What great news, Nina! SO happy you found that perfect club. Though I do not belong to a book club, if I DID, I would have exactly the same expectations as you. I can talk about a book for hours and hours and not grow weary. My friend in Chicago belongs to a book club of about 30 women, and they are from every age imaginable (80s to 20s), every profession, every ethnic group. I can only imagine, like your group, that this would lead to scintillating conversation. Congrats on your role as ‘moderator,’ too. You have found your bookish book club home!

  23. One word for you: “jealous”!!!

  24. I think this has been part of my reluctance to join a book group. I want to read and actually talk about THE BOOK. Even if I hated it. If something is assigned, I read it — as evidenced by the labourious read I read in preparation for a symposium I attended last week. And I would want that same crazy approach from the others in the group.

  25. I love my book club. And like you, I am the lone Jewish girl.

    Also like you, I am a teacher, so these folks wanted me to keep them on track.

    Dreamy, right?

    As far as being the token, I have to say it has never happened.

    (I don’t think…)

    But I live in a place with a pretty big Jewish community.

  26. I’m just excited that you FOUND a book club! I remember your post about the pains of book clubs cause it was right when I joined one. I’m still happily reading with my group! We can veer sometimes, but it’s usually on really interesting topics or school related cause a lot of the members are retired teachers. But we have different political views, spiritual views, ethnicities and ages. So you’re a token jew, I’m the token young person! By about 20-30 years. LOL.

  27. Nina-as you know, I have been in the same book club since around the time you were born. It works for me for two reasons. First, I have never been friends with anyone in the group. Second, there is a wide range of ages. As you know we have a leader whose sole job is leading book groups, and she selects the books. We do not read popular literature. She picks one classic each year, and the others are literary-prize winners-and books I would never read otherwise. The members don’t always like the leader’s selections, but the discussions are interesting-and strictly about the book. No one brings up anything personal. I am so glad you found a group that works for you.

    Love,

    Mom

  28. Loving all the comments, you guys! Thanks for chiming in!

  29. Nina. I told my wife that I mentioned to you, that her book club used a paid facilitator. When I mentioned your name…she said she knew of you…all very nice things….our daughter is Raleigh S.

  30. I belong to a “book club,” but — as you can see — have to place it in quotes because in the course of three years we accidentally all drank from the same cup of water and become the baby club instead. Although we don’t really discuss great pieces of literature, we all still love to read while nursing our young’uns or changing their pants, and we also pass around books that we think the others will like to read. So glad you found your book club match, Nina. I would welcome you with open arms any day!

  31. My book club has morphed into a wine club…

    But we don’t even discuss the wine (which would be kind of cool); we just drink it and talk about our husbands, kids, other people’s husbands and kids…

    I sit there with the pages of my book folded, quotations highlighted, feelings and thoughts to share and no one wants to discuss the book with me.

    I think it may be time for me to find a new book club.
    Or at least a legitimate wine club…

  32. I could use a wine club LOL. But not at the expense of my book club.

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