by Morgan on March 22, 2011
Despite apocalyptic weather, my first book club meeting was a success. There were the obligatory day-of cancellations we weather phobics are famous for, but I’m happy to say my living room was full nonetheless.
The book I chose was Matthew Sharpe’s You Were Wrong. I’ve been pretty vocal about my affinity for this novel, but I was certainly in the minority on Sunday night. Which is, of course, the point of having a book club: to have your affinities challenged and dissected. Curiously, the act of intelligent people whom I respect deeply picking apart the novel had the effect of solidifying my love for it.
Here’s the thing: it’s a weird book. Sharpe breaks every taboo imaginable here: the narrator is unreliable, the characters are unrealistic, events and timelines are skewed, ill-defined or utterly absurd, and there’s more than enough of the author waxing poetic on bizarre little affinities of his own. And I think it’s brilliant. People in the club pointed out that tangents are sprung on the reader without justification, motifs and ideas dropped randomly and not picked up again, and commonly, that the characters are simply annoying. I can agree with all of this while also believing that Sharpe was fiercely intentional in all of these indiscretions. I think what he achieves is a book that feels like being a neurotic, depressive 26-year-old. (Novels have to tell a story, but they also, for me at least, have to Do Something.)
In a nutshell, Karl, the main character, has no fucking clue what’s happening to him, or around him, at any given time on any given day, and all it takes to break the lifelong spell of mental drudgery is a hot girl. And I think this is totally believable.
While only a couple people said they’d really enjoyed the novel, I think most everyone agreed that it was a good choice for a discussion. I ended the meeting by having everyone talk a little bit about what kind of reader they are. Why they read and what and how. I find it endlessly interesting to see how vastly different we are in regards to this thing we all do, and I think the highest goal of an endeavor like a book club can and should be to expand our reading worlds, to call attention to the parameters within which we’ve each defined “reading” for ourselves, and begin to stretch them a little.
I chose these specific people because I think they’re all, in some intrinsic way, interested in Story, though they deal or work with it in different ways. They’re all intelligent, discerning, engaging people. I avoided couples or close friends, with the exception of my own significant other, because I can, and because he lives here. And while I’d initially planned for a rotating membership, this group was so interesting and diverse I think they’ll make a perfect core around which to add new and guest members. If you’d like to be invited to a future meeting, let me know.
I want to add, as an addendum, that I was originally going to blog more in-depth about the meeting, fleshing out arguments and quoting debate. But I don’t think I will. I think that cheapens what happens during the discussion, and suggests that I’m hosting a book club expressly so that I can write about it. And that’s simply not true. Its value is inherent.
By the way, my second guest post over at Three Guys One Book is here.