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The Bad Girls Book Club

October 6, 2020

On 20 January 2017 I went to the gym. I did my normal routine, but it was nowhere near enough that day. I eyed the punch bag. Maybe, I thought. I threw a punch and said “Ow!” Obviously not a good idea to be throwing punches without gloves (or any idea what I was doing). Decided to kick it instead. Much better.

Then I heard a voice say, “I know why you’re kicking that bag.” I looked over to see my friend Jenny. She did know exactly why I was kicking the bag. An hour earlier Donald Trump had been inaugurated as the forty-fifth president of the United States. Of course I needed to kick things.

She suggested commiserating over a coffee. We headed to Mad Rona’s. Over coffee Jenny, fairly new to the island, said she really needed a distraction from the disaster south of the border. Could I, she asked, tell her how to join a book club on Gabriola. I told her that as far as I’d been able to make out when I’d made enquires of my own, island book clubs were like the Masons: you had to know the funny handshake. Or someone had to die.

Also in Mad Rona’s at the time was retired librarian Susan Yates. If anyone knew how to get into a book club, it was probably her. We asked. She took a deep breath before explaining the murky world of Gulf Island book clubs.

Apparently you can walk into any library in a small town on Vancouver Island, ask about book clubs and a lovely librarian will smile and reply, “Oh, we have five book clubs here and two of them have room for more members – just call so-and-so, here’s her number, and you can find out how to join one.”

Not so in the libraries on Cortes, Hornby, Denman, Gabriola, Malcolm, Thetis and Quadra Islands. In these libraries the response to book club enquiries was the same. The staff, Susan said, would look furtively at each other, the walls, the ceiling, the cobwebs in the corners, anywhere to avoid making eye contact with the person wanting to know about book clubs. “Book Clubs,” they will say. “Hmm, well, there are some but, umm… we don’t have any contacts and we don’t know how to find anyone connected with uh… you know… a Book Club.”

In 2006, Susan’s role of Extension Library Manager (a role which involved regular travel to small and sometimes very isolated coastal communities) saw her assigned as temporary manager here at home on Gabriola. She started digging and was astonished to discover at least eleven book clubs existed here. One was rumoured to be (gasp) a men’s book club! Two were definitely lesbians only. All were clouded in mystery. It seemed there was only one method of entry: someone you were related to – or knew well enough to be their executor – had to die first. And, you had to be named in their will as a legitimate heir to their Book Club membership.

“Well,” I said after Susan explained all this, “to hell with them. Let’s start a book club of our own!” We did know a lot of avid readers, after all. We asked around. Yes! There were half a dozen readers who were very keen indeed.

An initial meeting was held at Jenny’s at which we would all talk about the latest book we’d read. Susan turned up with this card. Suddenly we had a name.

As to how all this worked, we had no bloody idea. The library! The library had book club sets of lots of novels. Some time was spent on Jenny’s computer. The only book immediately available which none of us had already read was the children’s book Harriet the Spy. We ordered it and put ourselves on the waiting list for others.

Our first “official” meeting was almost derailed by one member who took it all a bit too seriously and turned up with the official book club discussion guide questions for Harriet the Spy. That didn’t last long.

Next up was Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage, which everyone loved – especially the cat.

Our third novel also united everyone. We’d opted (because there was sod all else readily available) for The Paris Wife, a novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. None of us liked Hemingway as either a writer or as a human being – I don’t think “hate” would be too strong a word – and we anticipated the author slagging him off unmercifully. We were wrong. It was like a Harlequin romance. We all hated it.

And that is when we adopted the guiding principle of the Bad Girls Book Club: Life’s too short. If you decide you hate a book or it just bores you to tears or, worst of all, you think it’s badly written, then you cast the book aside and report to the group that you simply could not be arsed to finish it. After all, reading should never be a chore.

That’s also when Heather and Jenny collaborated on the creation of a checklist for people who want to join the Bad Girls Book Club. (That’s right: no one has to die and there’s no funny handshake.)

You know you’re a natural Bad Girl if you:

  • Neither know nor care how “real” book clubs on the island work;
  • Like wine and chocolate and good snacks;
  • Aren’t sure you can be bothered reading the Book of Choice;
  • Aren’t sure you can be bothered to discuss the Book of Choice, even if you have read some or perhaps all of it;
  • Like to read books that are in no way guaranteed to make you a better person – books whose highest value is providing pure escapist pleasure;
  • Have talked about reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck, but never actually got around to it;
  • Don’t want – except under duress – to ever look at the library’s list of Book Club Books;
  • Enjoy trashing Hemingway and everyone close to him;
  • Like British mysteries, which is what we often end up discussing after – or instead of – the Book of Choice;
  • Always waffle when asked to agree to the date for the next meeting and never have your calendar with you;
  • Find yourself more and more frequently asking, “What’s that word?”

Jenny acknowledged that the checklist was subject to change on a whim by any Bad Girl, because, well, we’re bad.

But we do love a good book.

Oh, and by the way, the last book club set we had before the pandemic shut the library and everything else down for months, back in February was, of all things, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The novel is about how quickly a global pandemic shuts down the electric and communications grid around the world and the largely feral lives lived by the few survivors and their descendants. An excellent and extraordinarily timely read which we all sincerely hope will not also be prophetic. That would be really bad.

One Comment
  1. krysross permalink

    Your experience in trying to join an existing book club is similar to my own. (Except that I haven’t started one of my own.)

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