Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Book Club Experience

I grew up as an army brat. In other words my dad was in the military  until I was 15. I loved it. We moved all over and even lived in Germany for awhile. Growing up I was always exposed to different cultures and throughout my childhood I usually had just as many white friends as black ones. For me moving between both worlds feels natural and I couldn't imagine life any other way.

With that said, about a year and half ago I decided to join a book club. I was getting ready to take a year off from work to be home with my son. I thought a book club would be a good way to socialize and get out of the house at least once a month. So, I looked on Craigslist and found a book club that looked really interesting. It was a group of women who were reading either classics or literature about foreign countries. I loved this idea. I'm a bit of  a nerd and wanted to read things that would make me think.

I went to the first meeting and thought everyone was great. The first book I read with the group was Zadie Smith's 'White Teeth'. I had previously read 'On Beauty' and loved it.. so I was excited. A year and a half later I have gotten to know the group better and read some amazing books that I never would have picked up on my own.

The only problem that I have with the group is that I'm the only black women in the group. Now, I don't mind being the only one and everyone makes me feel more than welcome. But, sometimes I feel like I over analyze things. So, our process for deciding which books we will read is that we all nominate a book or two and then we vote on which ones we want to read. Last month we read a book that I had nominated entitled 'Plum Bun' by Jessie Fauset. It is a classic from the Harlem Renaissance about a light-skinned black woman who decides to pass for white.  So, my problem is this. I would love to read more African American and African literature with the group. But, I don't want them to feel pressured to read it. When I nominate a 'Black' book everyone will know that I chose that book. I want the group to choose the books that they want to read and not just to appease me or some bit of lurking subconscious white guilt that they may have. But, more than likely this is all just an issue inside my head. Also, I think that I kind of take it a little personal if the group doesn't decide to read an African American book that I have suggested. And then if they do choose the book I feel added pressure for them to like the book. The book seems like an extension of myself.. because its part of my experience.

Someone suggested to me that I start my own book club with people who wanted to read African American literature. I don't want to do this because for one thing I love my book club, they really are a great group of women. But also I like being exposed to books that I wouldn't read on my own. As I thought about this more I thought about the fact that by me suggesting African American literature that the group was not familiar with.. I was also helping to broaden their horizons, just as they were helping to broaden mine.

So, moving forward I think I'll try to silence some of my neurotic-racial inner dialogue and continue to suggest books that I find interesting no matter what the topic. I'll let you know how that goes!


Peanut said...

Great post girl. I haven't joined a book club but maybe I should. I think you should do both, continue going to your group and start your own. Maybe some of the women from your group now would join! Hope all is well.

dylan said...

Suggest whatever books you want to read with them. They don't have to vote for them, and you may be surprised that they do want to read them.

Tom Wheeler said...

Found you on Twitter, and I read this post.

Being white, I can understand where you're coming from. At the same time I think you're looking at this a little too analytically.

However, I think you should still suggest your book. Perhaps, you should suggest a book that kind of "bridges the gap" between both races. I can't think of anything specific off of the top of my head.

But I remember one time when I was in the airport and picked up a book called, "The Known World".

At first I was a bit nervous that I wasn't going to be able to get into it, but after I finished it I thought it was very interesting and well written and was very glad I bought it.

Anyways, hopefully you've figured it out by now! :)