Monday, November 1, 2010

Book Club? Just who do you think you are?

I'm going to a book club, I say to my husband. He looks at me as if I've grown a third eye. I rub my forehead and explain that this happens when a group of people all read the same book for the purpose of talking about it. Together.

He knows this but didn't fancy me the book club type. Neither did I. But during a late-night public television binge, I learn that talking to strangers and trying new things keeps your brain elastic, a good thing evidently, and wards off memory loss and Alzheimer's. (So does getting a good night's sleep. I'm shooting for two out of three.) The way I see it, if I'm talking to new people about books, I double the benefits. But that's my own math.

Late-night television can change your life.

Of course, I don't share this with my husband. That's not what marriage is about. And I ignore him when he gives me The Look, which tonight means it's-the-national-league-playoffs-and-I-just-bought-a-six-pack-but-you're-going-out-to-talk-about-a book-with-a-group-of-strangers-you-silly-woman-you. He doesn't understand that I need to get my brain functioning at full, make that half capacity again after spending a handful of years home with my son. And as PBS's Dr. BrainMan didn't mention anything about beer and baseball, Book Club it is.

The selection is John Irving's A Prayer For Owen Meany. I like John Irving and have read several of his books. Just not this one. At least I don't think so. I owned a copy once. But the only thing I can recall is the actress Ashley Judd getting knocked upside the head with a baseball, and I believe that's from Simon Birch, the movie adaption which I also didn't finish.

By Book Club standards, I'm guessing this is the same as not having read it.

I wonder aloud if I have time to Wikipedia the book. My husband, on the couch with beer in hand, rolls his eyes, loudly. I remind myself to keep inner dialogues ... in. Don't your Phillies have a baseball game to lose? I want to say this but decide on something more marriage-friendly. Go Phillies!

I'll have to fake it. I've faked it before.

Like that time back in 1993 when I sang in front of an audience while playing the guitar even though I don't play the guitar, a small detail that escaped my overly elastic 20-something brain. Or maybe it wasn't because of my brain at all but rather the fact that I was one of only a handful of Westerners living in that remote city in the middle of China.

It's like my BFF Julia Child likes to say, "Who's going to know?"

So, meeting a group of strangers for the purpose of examining a book about which I know squat, sounds fun. A mental challenge. Also Book Club is meeting near my Washington, DC apartment on a street named, ironically, Irving. Maybe I'll use that as I introduce myself around the room. Open with a joke.

I prepare some snacks, choose a bottle of wine and tie a scarf around my neck, which is odd because just as I'm not a book club person, I'm also not a scarf person until hearing recently that knowing how to tie a scarf separates the girls from the women, a tidbit I did not pick up from public television.

I blow mom and wife kisses out the door and prepare myself for greater brain elasticity.

I walk. And walk. And walk down Irving Street, which encircles the entire back side of my neighborhood, curls up a wooded street bordered by a zoo and then winds uphill. I walk a long, looping semi-circle when Irving runs out. There's not enough street to make it to the address. I call the host.

Oh, it's not on Irving. It's on another street, the street I wrote on an index card and placed in the pocket of my blazer. I look at my own handwriting and wonder how I could have possibly written one thing and read something completely different. I feel my aging Mother Brain hardening by the minute. The situation is critical. Must. Reach. Book Club ...

But that's not all. Just as I feel my brain hardening, I also feel my feet swelling. My sexy-in-a-graduate-student-kind-of-way, high-heeled espresso boots were a perfect choice had I not taken the circuitous scenic route around the entire neighborhood. Now with each step I'm pushing my luck, not to mention the whole heel height/walking distance continuum, which is precisely why I've never been a math person.

(This picture, a visualization of a diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measurement of a human brain that I found on Wikipedia, is how I imagine my new-and-improved elastic brain will look, a mohawk in cool Winter colors.)

I'm late and breathy as I walk into Book Club. With a little sleight of hand, I distract the two other Book Clubbers with snacks and wine as my friend gives me a quick tour of the funky first floor of her house that could've been torn from an issue of Dwell magazine with it's modern, mid-century stylings. We talk furniture, home decor and how to incorporate Ikea items even if you're not an Ikea person.

I'm hoping that if we keep this up, we won't have time to actually talk about the book, a technique that got me through years of piano lessons.

But I need to sit and get rid of the annoying scarf that has done nothing but irritate my chin, something the chic French woman in that YouTube video demonstrating how to tie it properly did not warn against. As I decide that I'm not a scarf person and that I'll need to distinguish myself from The Girls in some other way (arm wrestling, might work), I notice something adorning all the other women. A book. They all brought a copy of the book. Of course. Blast, my poor accessorizing!

In fact, the host has an original first edition copy. This seems significant because she was hesitant to open it, let alone read it. The others comment on its beautiful spine. These people are serious. I think of my own dog-eared, water-stained, taped up books as I scan the host's gorgeous built-in book shelves. For what? A prop? I'll feel better if I have a book in my hands. Any book. Did I bring my day planner?

I have to think quickly. But I can't. That's the problem. That's why I'm here.
I was expecting to hide in the background where my occasional "hmm" and "that's a good point" wouldn't draw too much attention. Instead, I'm the fourth in a tightly knit square. No where to hide. I'll have to hold my corner. But this is good. My mind stirs, stiff from a five-year deep freeze as I psyche myself up. Speak in complete sentences. Be quick. Agile. Well, as agile as one can be while sitting, drinking wine and wearing high heel boots. T
hankfully, I remember to keep this inner dialogue where it belongs. See. Book Club is working already.

After we all share a bit about ourselves, the woman to my left, a lawyer, with book in lap and wine glass in hand, leans forward with an obvious air of Okay Let's Get Things Started and asks, "So, did anyone read the book this time?"

Well now. How very civil.

Even if it turns out that I'm not a Book Club person, these are my kind of Book Club people.