Friday, 25 February 2011

How To Win Your Book Group

Don’t kid yourself. You didn’t really join so you could “share with likeminded readers”. You want to be the boss of the book group. Here’s how:

1) Props.

Everyone always brings a copy of the book. Why? To read from it during the evening? No, that would be lame (see point 5). No one really knows why they do it. They just do. So you have a living room containing ten middle-class folks and as many identical paperbacks. Make sure yours looks the best. NO, I don’t mean it’s been carefully covered in plastic like they do in the library. I mean it’s, well, a bit f***ed. It’s warped and stained. It has dogeared pages and contains a stack of notes, scrawled on random envelopes and receipts. It says “I read this in a fast fury of intellectual vigour; I consumed it hungrily and fiercely and I’ve devoured its every significance. Whereas you, feeble sap, barely broke the spine of yours. Thus I win.”

2) Notes.

You want a great wodge of them, stuffed in your book (see point 1, do keep up). Not neat and tidy, with words underlined, because that says “girls’ school sixth form” like nothing else. No, these notes are extensive and they are messy. They say “I read fast, I think fast, I write fast. You can’t read these notes ... and in fact neither can I. Deal with it”.

Crucially, however, you must not refer to these notes during the book group, let alone read them out. No. They are your secret weapon, and they only remain powerful as long as they are secret. They are to make your opponents think “Looks like he has some really clever s**t written down there. I wonder when he’s going to use it. Perhaps if I say “I just didn’t really sympathise with any of the characters” like I was planning to, he’ll unleash the scary notes on me. I’d better keep schtum”. Result: win.

3) Research.

It’s pretty simple: if you bring a printout of the author’s Wikipedia page, you lose. If you bring a printout of the publisher’s reading group notes, you lose. If instead you bring something like a critical text about a completely unrelated author and leave it just visible under your copy of the book (see point 1) you win.

4) Opinions.

You can get away without any real ones for quite a while, but eventually you need to front up with a view or two. The golden rule is that your opinion has to be unchallengeable. Try luring your opponents in by asking something like “you remember that lovely moment at the diner where Claude notices the colour of the formica?” … or whatever; a tiny invented detail. Even if you’ve made it up everyone will inevitably nod and go “hm”. Then you’ve got them. You can load that moment; freight it, as the academics like to say, with as much significance as you please, and no one can contradict you. “It both prefigures his fall from grace and stands metaphorically for the entropy affecting the whole psychogeography of the province, don’t you think?” Nod. “Hm”. Win.

5) Quoting from the text.

Is both boring and sort of cheating. So don’t do it, lest you un-win the whole thing.

There you go. Follow those simple steps and you will leave the rest of your book group looking like a special needs catch-up class, and victory will be yours

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