Kill the book club

You could have knocked me down with a feather.

“But darling,” I said, “you don’t read.”

“I read the news,” he rejoined.

“Book clubs tend to focus on things like contemporary fiction, or non-fiction by knowledgeable pundits on the burning issues of our time.”

“Huh,” grunted HRH dismissively, “all of yours seem of focus on having way too much wine with your friends on Thursday nights.”

“Well,” I said defensively, “I have to have a book club. I’m an expat.”

Living in a foreign country creates an insatiable urge to stay on top of cultural developments at home. To do this, you seek out others from your native shores, meeting all kinds of people you never knew at home: people with goatee beards, Republicans and people who use “scrapbook” as a verb. You agree to be a Girl Scout Leader, which turns out to be much better than you thought.

Eventually, you get invited to join an English-language book club, and this seems like the third stage to Nirvana.

Expats bring book clubs into the world with lofty aspirations: “Focusing on native English-language fiction, currently enjoying critical acclaim.” With time, the lack of a reliable source of books and the general ebb and flow of expat life, the rules soften and then rot. Blink, and your book club is poised on the brink of chaos: It proves impossible to find a date that works for anyone, so you skip March. And then comes the real death rattle: Becca, who hasn't been in Moscow long enough to know better, invites her new Russian friend Olga to join, and unless some decisive action is taken, you'll all be stuck reading “Master & Margarita.” Again.

Cordelia and I were in charge of just this kind of book club, and last Wednesday we met at Remy’s for garlic soup and literary euthanasia.

“Kill it off,” she stated, drawing heavily on a Silk Cut Ultra Light, “shut it down.”

“Dismantle until everyone gets back from Christmas? Transfuse some new blood?”

“Nope,” said Cordelia said. “If they want to continue, then fine, but I am not going to read one more of those sticky toffee pudding books ‘Ya Ya something-or-other.’”

“‘The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood,’” I corrected, as two bowls of fragrant creamy soup were placed in front of us.

“And,” Cordelia, added, shaking a well-licked spoon at me, “Let me say this right now, I refuse to read anything about Aspergers’ Syndrome, bees, mermaids or quilts.”

Cordelia had a point: it had been a precipitous slide from Ian McEwan to Jodi Picoult.

“Look,” said Cordelia, more softly, “It”s served its purpose: you and I have become friends. That’s what an expat book club is for. Don’t worry, Illl send out the e-mail. Now, I propose we just have another bowl of this soup for our second course, and how about, just this once, we split a bottle of wine?”

Jennifer Eremeeva is a long-time resident of Moscow, about which she blogs at www.rbth.ru/blogs/ and www.dividingmytime.typepad.com. She is currently working on her first book.

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