Dear Literary Lady,
HELP! I have a book club meeting tonight and I didn’t read the book! How do I cover my tracks and ensure I’m not excommunicated from the book club and snubbed by all my literary friends?
–M.L., Durango, CO.
Ok, first of all, do not panic. The situation is salvageable, but you’re going to need to keep a calm and clear head to pull this off. Faking your way through a book club meeting is not for amateurs or the faint of heart. You’ll need to be able to withstand the scrutiny of an entire room, to pass an interrogation about the novel with flying colors, and to eat cookies nonchalantly as if you weren’t consumed by guilt.
Now, in the few hours you have before your book club meeting, you must prepare to do the following:
1. Bring food
I cannot overstate the importance of this. Should you get caught in your lie, being the bearer of delicious treats will be your saving grace. It will keep you from being swiftly ousted from the book club, and it will buy you a second chance.
2. Browse the book quickly. Now.
In the little time you have remaining, browse the book. Note the names that pop up, where it takes place and the prose. Are there big descriptive paragraphs? Is there a lot of dialogue? Are there a million footnotes? All of this is good to remember when you’re faking your way through conversation about the book.
3. Read one page in its entirety. Two if possible.
Pick any one page, preferably in the middle of the book, and read it in its entirety. Whatever happens on that page is what you’re going to talk about during the meeting. If there’s a lull in conversation and someone turns to you expectantly and says, “So, what do you think, M.L.?,” you’ll reply, “Well, not to change the topic, but this particular scene stuck out in my mind.”
4. Crack the book’s spine
If you didn’t read the book, it probably looks brand spanking new. I know this is hard for many book lovers out there, but you’re going to have to wear it down a bit. Crack the spine, bend the pages back and forth. Make it look like a well-thumbed and well-loved novel.
5. Pick out an “inside page” review
Many books have review blurbs on the first few pages, in addition to the blurbs on the front and back covers. Few people read or even remember them. You’re going to pick one out, remember it, adapt it, and use it throughout the book meeting. Does a review call it “tenderly humorous” or a “triumph of empathy”? Then you’re going to say that you found the book “funny in a tender way” and “sympathetic to the human condition.”
6. Turn the tables
If you get asked a question you can’t answer, respond with another question. Use the Socratic method as much as possible when contributing to the book club discussion. If someone says, “M.L., did you like this character?” You respond by saying, “I was conflicted about that, actually. I’m curious, did you guys find the character likable?”
7. Talk about the author’s intent.
When in doubt, turn the conversation toward speculation about the author’s intent. Nobody ever actually knows what that is, so it’s easier to bluff your way through the topic. If someone says, “M.L., did you think that twist was a little absurd and unbelievable?,” you simply respond by saying, “Yes but I wondered if that was the author’s intent.”
Nothing says, “I totally did the reading” like a big eager smile.
It’s show time! Good luck out there,