I’m not especially good at book clubs or organized discussion groups. It’s an odd thing to say for 1) an insatiable reader and 2) someone who spent the better part of her first three decades of life in discussion-heavy seminars and learning environments. But I do love those spontaneous conversations that spring up around mutual love or puzzlement or hatred of some phrase or piece of work that impacts at least one interlocutor to such an extent that it forces itself into some thought that won’t rest until it’s been shared with others (and maybe not even then).
I have managed to stay involved, though, in a Greek mythology reading group, wrapping up its life in a few days when we finish our prolonged exploration of Herodotus’s Histories. What’s kept me involved here? Good personalities, which are blessedly devoid of any tendency to shove their opinions all over the place in an effort to hear the sound of their own droning voices. No felt necessity to aim at profundity or to grant a book more importance than it deserves. No pre-set questions. No ulterior motive, such as gossip and fancy food-sharing, in coming together around a book. A willingness, in this instance, to see the unintentional humor in some of the proto-historian’s declarations or the situations he describes. (One of my favorites? Sending a secret directive to a distant ruler to rebel– by shaving a messenger’s head, tattooing instructions on it, letting the hair grow back, and then setting the courier on his way. Nice work, that.)
Part of it may be, too, that although I haven’t found an ancient Greek drama I don’t like, I’m not die-hard devoted to our subject matter. Try to entice me into a discussion circle on Infinite Jest or W.G. Sebald, though, and I’ll run for the hills; there’s no way I’ll subject the experience of spending time with these soul-savers to pre-scheduled analysis and dissection.* Maybe my understanding of the facts or symbolism of a given work is poorer thereby– but that’s generally not why I read, for pleasure, at least, nor is it what makes progressing through a work enjoyable. To say I value the viscerality– not the escapism– of reading above all the other things said activity can offer may seem a little too strong, but I’m comfortable with the assertion for now. If you want to weigh in on these musings, let’s have that discussion– but please, without an agenda or pissing contest.
* Again, as opposed to off-the-cuff, organically arising discussion with other enthusiasts.