I’m a culture bully. If there’s something in my life that’s touched me, or made me laugh, something that’s forced me to think or change or puts into words the whatsitmabob I’ve always cloudily considered but couldn’t verbalise myself, then I will peer-pressure the fuck out of you until you love it too.
See: the Lean In movement, Brixton Market on a Sunday, Marina Abramović, Whitney Houston's everything, power ballad club nights, extended critical analysis of GIRLS and butter.
It’s an isolating trait. At school we once went on a class trip to see a performance of Electra and guys. The set! The production! The layers that unfurled themselves to you if only you paid attention! THAT GUY WHO PLAYED THE BROTHER! It truly rocked my world, and I needed to talk about it.
But the day after the trip nobody had anything to say. It was largely the teacher and me who dissected the magic in class feedback. At the lesson’s end I picked up a crumpled piece of paper on the desk beside mine that said, I hate it when she gets like this. She’s so pretentious. That note was about me, and I left distraught.
I thought of that incident on Tuesday night, as 20 of the most interestingly diverse and bookish people I’ve ever had the privilege of being in a room with discussed what exactly they thought about Simon Rich’s Elliot Allagash and then, without prompt, continued to talk about books long after the formal dialogue had ceased. As in like, out of choice. Because they, errrr, really like books.
‘Everyone should have introduced themselves by saying what their favourite novel is,’ one attendee noted after the initial discussion, sloshing red wine from bottle to glass.
Another replied, ‘Oh God, no, that’s a terrible idea. We’d all get judge-y, there’d be huge pressure to pick something that reflected juuuuust the right balance of intellect with irony.’
A fella said, ‘And anyway, as if anyone could narrow down a literary selection to just one book.’ There was laughter all round.
‘I couldn’t even get a shortlist.’
I ummmed and ahhhed for a second, weighing up possible response, and then admitted, a bit sheepishly, ‘I have an immovable all-time top five, that I re-vist, in turn, annually.’
If I’d’ve said that in the classroom of the early 2000’s, a note would’ve been passed around for me to later see, damning my ridiculousness. But, when you find the people who love what you love, obnoxious adoration simply gives way to earnest dissection of the finer points of Yates’s unspoken dialogue in Revolutionary Road, and Zadie Smith’s character development in On Beauty. Geeky honesty means that one book-lover waxed lyrical about Catch 22 with such fevered and desperate passion that you bet your Amazon ass that I hit “order” online the second I got home. Those people made me feel normal.
I’m not traditionally academic, and in a room of people who know what they’re talking about often I seem a bit naive and confused, assembling points as I speak and saying “Does that make sense?” after every sentence. But Book Club is a warm and fuzzy place where literary one-upmanship isn’t sport. It’s a bunch of people dead excited about stories, and a desperate need to talk about them. It’s book wanking in its most unadulterated form and it makes me feel like I belong.
At the weekend The Sunday Times did a feature on dogging, and well, Book Club is basically that. Dogging. The article reported that dogging all starts out very normal- lots of standing around chatting, talking about the weather. Then BOOM, something changes and suddenly everyone is sucking this and sitting on that, and Book Club works exactly the same.
To an outsider we’d look like any other bunch of Londoners who didn’t know each other very well, as 7 p.m. comes and goes and chat gives way to book talk. Then, as with the dogging, suddenly, at an unspecified point, the mood in the room shifts and somebody dares to get bold and wang their real opinion out on the table, and before you know it we’re all disrobing inhibitions to reveal true thought and feeling and it’s all yes, books! Books! Books! as we watch each other get excited and disappointed and vulnerable in our beliefs.
It’s the purest form of pleasure I’ve experienced in ages, just sharing what I love with people who love it too. I urge you, then, with the same belligerent tenacity as I would recommend anything by Nora Ephron: find your fellow doggers, and do it now, for it makes all the difference. It’s home.
Want to say something about this post?