The busy woman's anti-book club - Macleans.ca
 

The busy woman’s anti-book club

Who has time to read 500 pages? Welcome to the Ladies Short-Form Media Auxiliary.


 
The busy woman's anti-book club

Photograph by Cole Garside

It began as a joke. I resented my husband’s book club and its ability to work through doorstoppers like Matterhorn (597 pages) with surprising alacrity, parsing narrative threads while making wild-game chili. Attempting to fashion a rival club, I found my girlfriends fell into two camps: the book-club-fatigued and the time-crunched. Whereas my mom can juggle two book clubs and seven novels on her Kindle, I can barely get through the ingredients list on my jar of peanut butter, with work, a baby and a Twitter feed all clamouring for my attention. And so I convened the Ladies Short-Form Media Auxiliary. We would drink buttery whites, eat cake and discuss magazine articles, YouTube clips and clever tweets. We’d all be on the same page, but that page wouldn’t be in a book.

Book clubs have seen their popularity rise and taper over the past decade. In the early part of the 20th century they enabled women, relegated to the home and often denied formal education, the chance to broaden their minds. Instead of reading the same book, women would read whatever they could get their hands on and then deliver detailed reports to their literature groups, writes Elizabeth Long in Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life.

If the role of the book club as a tool for female empowerment and education has waned over the century, its promise as a place for spirited discussion and intellectual engagement hasn’t, especially as women’s time has grown increasingly fractured. “If you don’t have a lot of leisure time, don’t have time to think interesting thoughts and talk about interesting things with people, then you really miss that,” says Long.

It’s ironic, then, that as women have grown increasingly busy, the book club has become a tyrannical time suck. Oprah’s picks regularly clock in at around 500 pages and come with a torrent of supplemental online materials and discussion topics. “I was at the MLA [Modern Language Association] conference and there was a panel about the ‘Summer of Faulkner.’ People were most impressed with all the resources Oprah had gathered online,” says Cecilia Konchar Farr, the author of Reading Oprah: How Oprah’s Book Club Changed the Way America Reads.

The scholarly offerings are great. It’s just that they have also created a book club culture that can demand huge amounts of mental energy. Can people get together to discuss other art forms? Long and Konchar Farr have come across poetry and play-reading groups in their research, but why stop at the printed page?

Last October, Colleen Murphy, a London-based DJ and musician, began Classic Album Sundays, a record listening club, at a pub. Members show up to listen, silently, to an entire album, then drink pints and talk about it. “The difference between an album club and a book club,” says Murphy, “is that it only takes an hour to listen to an album.”

These days we come by our culture in bits and pieces, watching videos alone and listening to MP3s through our headphones. Perhaps because it’s so refreshingly communal, Classic Album Sundays has struck a chord. “A lot of people are starting ones around the country, which I’m really excited about,” says Murphy.

At my short-form media club we talked about the commercial for Ontario’s all-day kindergarten my friend Lindsay sent around (I was impressed by the production values). Then Maya showed us YouTube videos of Lisa Lampanelli, a charmingly raunchy comedian the rest of us had somehow never heard of. Julie wasn’t able to watch the clip of Truman Capote reading from Breakfast at Tiffany’s I’d sent around earlier in the week, so I pulled that up, and we discussed how Capote’s voice is equal parts David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell.

Though less rigorous than Faulkner with Oprah’s study aids, our discussion was surprisingly free-flowing and interdisciplinary. From the raunchy comedian, we meandered over to Sarah Palin and Tina Fey and Christopher Hitchens. By the end of the evening my laptop was a mess of open tabs and Google searches. Just another night of hanging out with the girls, except with a little more intellectual heft and audiovisual flair.


 

The busy woman’s anti-book club

  1. What an excellent idea!

  2. I love reading, that's my passion! I do read between six or eight books a month, I always find the time, I am very busy with my kids(happy divorcee, so I am a single mom) and work (very demanding job), but I always find the time, I am a multitasker, I read when I am cooking, folding laundry, and at work I steal a few minutes here and there, it is a joy to me. I don't do kindle hate it, it's practical I have it because I travel a lot for work, but is nothing like a book, feeling the crisp pages and the smell of the printed paper, the sound when you turn the page, and the anticipation you feel when you see how much you have left to read.

    • My favourite book is DON QUIJOTE DE LA MANCHA by Miguel de Cervantes Y Saavedra, it's about four hundred years old and my dad sent me a link, and the REAL ACADEMIA ESPANOLA (Royal Spanish Academy) made a project with youtube called Don Quijote 2.0 and the project is to challenge people to upload a video of the reading a paragraph of the book, starting by Victor Garcia De la Concha, the director of the REA and so on (on their page they have the rules) and it is amazing, because every video is very short about a minute or so you can do a few at the time, the downside is that it is in spanish, it is not for everyone but it would be a very cool project for a Shakespeare or Dickens, etc. so maybe that's something that someone can start, I will be happy to join something like that, I did my part for Don Quijote but the video is not up yet.

      • Here is the youtube page is beautiful and so well done, you can click where it says GALERIA DE VIDEOS and it starts from there.

        [youtube tVpaO7xFs5A http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVpaO7xFs5A youtube]