I’m in a bind.
I joined a book club, mostly out of boredom – there’s nothing else to do here. At first, I didn’t think I was going to enjoy talking about books, but I do! The other book club members throw words like “deracinated” into casual conversation! I felt like a swan indoctrinated in duckness discovering my lost tribe for the fist time. I love words. Big words, small words, foreign words, swear words – practically any assortment of words strung together fills me with an intoxicating joie de vivre. Other people who read know a lot of words, and they know how to string them together.
It’s a sizable group, and the club is brilliantly organised. So well, in fact, that we have a dyed-in-the-wool bestselling author coming to our next meeting to talk about her book, which I finished on the weekend.
Here’s the problem: the book was rubbish. However, since I’m going to meet the author, I can’t bear to say anything bad about it. What if word gets back to the writer that I didn’t like her book and it makes her feel sad? What if she catches my eye at the book club meeting and deduces from my swiftly averted glance that I have been spreading toxic reviews of her work all over town? I am weighed down by my heavy secret and my guilty conscience.
I know from experience it is very difficult to write an entire book. You think you’re doing fine, sticking with the plot you laid out on the index cards, then suddenly the shit hits the fan. Characters start dying off unexpectedly. Before you know what hit you, your heroine is huddled in a catatonic trance while a torch-bearing mob attempts to kick in the door to her haunted flat. Her baby is playing with something disturbing and unidentifiable he found up the chimney and you, the writer, don’t even know what it is. And you’re only forty pages in! So you just leave it and start another book.
In appreciation of the difficulty involved in stringing that many words together and coming up with something coherent, I don’t want to hurt the writer’s feelings by not liking her book, even here, anonymously, without even naming it. How can I conceal my disdain at the next book club meeting? Should I just stay home and read Haruki Murakami? Or should I go and ask loads of questions about book-finishing strategies for writers instead of talking about the book itself?