I quit my book club.
Not because it wasn’t pleasant or interesting — it was. Not because I don’t like the people there — I do. Not even because the scheduling was difficult (although it was, how you say, a pain in the tuckus).
No; I quit my book club because I absolutely could not stand the thought of being told what to read and when to read it, no matter how charming the book in question might be. For the first month, I read A Gentleman in Moscow and that was fine, not least because that novel is simply wonderful and you should all drop everything and read it right now. Well and good.
For the second month, we were supposed to read Tim Townsend’s Mission at Nuremberg, the story of the Lutheran chaplain charged with the spiritual care of twenty-one Nazis awaiting trial at Nuremberg, as well as their families. By all accounts, Mission at Nuremberg is an excellent book. But every time I glanced over at my to-be-read pile and saw it sitting there, a simmering resentment rose within me. I didn’t want to read it. I wanted to read other things. That resentment soon turned to rebellion: they couldn’t make me read it! I read what I like!
It occurred to me that this was probably not the most… constructive… attitude to take to our next gathering. So I quit. And then I returned Mission at Nuremberg to the library, unread.
But then I sat down at thought about it — what was the reason for my fit of rebellion? It wasn’t really about this or that particular book; I may well read Mission at Nuremberg at a later date. It occurred to me, though, that I’ve only relatively recently finished my last round of schooling; it’s been not quite two years since I finished and defended my master’s thesis. And then I ran the numbers, and it turns out that I’ve been in school for exactly 68.75% of my life. That is… a lot of being told what to read and when to read it. Not that I’ve always minded! I did my undergrad degree in English Lit and enjoyed it, by and large. But still.
Now, though, I am completely unfettered — free to read whatever I like, whenever I feel like reading it. I’ve been giving myself permission to stop reading books halfway through if they’re boring me, and to even return them to the library unread if I get them home and then change my mind. I can read just as my fancy takes me, following reading paths and bunny trails as they arise. I have time to do things like decide to read an author’s entire back-catalogue (like my Lucy Maud Montgomery reading project), or read a multi-volume series straight through (like the twelve Poldark novels I read this past spring), or decide that what I really want to read now is only poetry or only travelogues or only whatever I like. And it’s wonderful.
Perhaps in another five or ten years ago I will hanker for some structure and find another book club to join. Until then, though — here’s to free reading!