I joined a new book club recently. New to me.
Over the years, I have participated in numerous book clubs, social gatherings of like-minded people where discussion centers on a collection of pages written by an author who has penned a masterpiece much like birthing a baby.
One of my favorite book clubs, an intimate congregation of couples, met in one another’s homes in Ventura to discuss books, sample an array of unhealthy munchies and taste wines. A delightful agenda. Finding books to read with appeal to both men and women was challenging but rewarding to hear the male perspective.
The other book club I participate in these days is very small, just four of us. Docents at The San Diego Museum of Art. We search for art-related books. Our discussions are thought-provoking and usually circle back to the museum. I plan to suggest The Man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes, the story of a painting by John Singer Sargent in which his subject, an extraordinary Frenchman, wears a resplendent red coat. Sargent said to his model, “It’s not about you, it’s about the coat.” A perfect selection for our group, I think.
My friend, Suzy, joined me at the new book club whose meetings are held on the first Wednesday of the month at seven o’clock in the evening. Together we walked into a room full of happy, energetic, chattering women, not knowing a soul except for the mutual acquaintance who had invited us. However, they were all alumnae of our sorority, Pi Beta Phi. And they welcomed us in a collegial and caring manner.
We first conversed with a woman who had spent the day on the receiving end of chemo drugs, which she referred to as “the poison.” I marveled at her upbeat attitude and positive spirit. She invited us to sit on the sofa beside her as women of different ages, dressed in casual wear, and holding copies of the selected book gathered in a circle. My first reaction was that they were a very cordial group; didn’t take long to realize they were also an intelligent group.
Right away I felt at home with this group of characters talking about the cast of characters in The Wednesday Letters, a small book, a New York Times best seller written in 2007, by Jason F. Wright. There was a wide variety of reactions to the book, but overall the consensus was less than positive. As the discussions continued, I felt uncomfortable for some reason. A shiver of uneasiness swept over me.
Thirteen women discussed the book for over an hour. A few liked the fact that it was lighter and easier to read than some of their past choices. One or two enjoyed the straight-forward themes of forgiveness, faith, hope and love. The dissenters among us yearned for stronger, more developed female characters, especially Rain.
Marty, the woman leading the exchange of ideas, had a wonderful style about her. She was extremely well-prepared; she listened, and she prompted when needed. She encouraged deeper discussions and was insightful in her comments. Because of her, I really liked the format of my new book club. Everyone seemed comfortable in expressing their thoughts, a mark of a good leader, I think. I’m usually the first one with an opinion, but throughout the session something needled me; I began to have trouble relaxing as the talk about the book progressed. I kept my mouth shut.
The Wednesday Letters revolves around a man named Jack and his wife, Laurel and the letters that he wrote to her every Wednesday of their long love affair. Made me think about how radically times have changed and how the art of letter writing, the subject of the book, has all but vanished. A lively conversation about texting and twitter and emails followed. A longing for crafting handwritten missives permeated the talk in the room. I loved the different avenues the conversations took; away from the book and back to the book.
A familiar pang of discomfort caused by I wasn’t sure what hit me again as the discussion drew out. An uneasiness throughout my body.
“The author just seemed to tie everything up too neatly in a bow.”
“Yeah, I didn’t get that either.”
“I wanted to know what was in the letter Malcom wrote to Rain. So disappointing to leave it hanging…”
In a way, a constructive sort of criticism. But also, an uncomfortable exchange, given that Jason Wright wasn’t there to defend himself. Oh, I get it, I said to myself. I’m feeling badly for the author. How would he react if he were here, I wondered? As the group continued to unpeel the structure, the characterizations and the plot of the book, slowly I came to realize what was gnawing at me, making me very uncomfortable.
My book, The Orangewoods, will be published in a matter of months. I am filled with self-doubt. Uncertainty deepens in my mind. After all this time, my multi-faceted love story will be out in the universe. Whether or not it will ever be a topic in book club discussions matters little. There are book club discussion questions at the end, however. Whoever picks up my book, if they read to the end, will have opinions about my writing. And it’s highly likely there will be negativity and criticism and dogged regrets over spending the money to purchase my book.
What on earth was I thinking? Why in the world did I ever do something so foolish? What’s the point? It all seems so pretentious now. Mine is an ordinary story. No abuse. No kidnapping. No unthinkable tragedy. Just ordinary.
Ordinary. No wonder I’m filled with anguish. Praying. Bargaining. Muttering. Sitting for hours with my legs drawn up close to my core. Jaw clenched. Anxiety, worry and fear taking their turn in my fretting mind.
I am filled with worst-case scenarios; I retreat inward where I entertain thoughts like “Yes, writing this memoir was a wonderful catharsis but did I really need to inflict it on others? Maybe I should have just kept a journal…”
The art lover in me finds myself wondering what poor tortured Vincent Van Gogh thought when he painted his self-portrait, his last painting done only months before his death.
Damn I wish this was all over.
Jennifer, the bright light who is helping me navigate the book release process listened as I spewed forth all of these thoughts of ineptness which swirl in my labyrinth of doubt over a latte the other day. When I calmed a bit, she put her hand on mine which trembled slightly. “Oh, in other words, you’re a writer,” she said softly emboldening me.
I guess with my book very near the release date, I can call myself a writer. And whether or not I really am, I find great inspiration in what Kurt Vonnegut, the great writer of American counterculture classics, wrote:
“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside of you, to make your soul grow.”
What to practice? I think singing. I scroll through my playlists, my favorites, and when I get to Vince Gill, I push Play.
Your trepidation echoes mine in thinking about an upcoming art show! Self-doubt - aaargh!
Hopefully, you will find delight in the letters of “Meet Me at the Museum” - a joy to read!
Love your empathetic soul. And your courage for putting it all out there. The truth is you can’t be hurt, only strengthened! Cat