notquiteold

Nancy Roman

Choosy

Having high expectations can be a very good thing.

Mostly, because I have found that when you expect the best from people, they usually give it.

This is my best example. Our foyer.

The carpenter who laid this floor had never done anything like this before. We showed him a photograph from a lovely mansion-turned-bed-and-breakfast in Newport. We wanted to recreate the gorgeous floor. We told him, “Study the photo. Think about how the parquet was done. You can figure it out. You can do it.”

And he did it.

And here’s an even simpler example:

Many years ago, when my nephews and niece were little, everyone was at my little condo for a party. My niece came into the living room to tattle on her brothers. “The boys are in the bedroom with the Legos and they are making a huge mess.” And I said, “That’s okay, because I know your brothers are also really good at cleaning up after they play.” My niece looked at me skeptically, but went back to the bedroom to tell her brothers what I said. After everyone had gone home, I walked into the bedroom. It was spotless.

So yes. I love having high expectations of people. I love to trust that folks will do the best the can. And I might be disappointed once in a while, but honestly – not that often.

But I also see that high expectations – especially for things (not people) – can get in the way of your enjoyment of the simple things.

I am the leader of a book club.

I started the book club after I retired in order to discover new friends and new ideas. The book club has been going strong for eighteen months now. And I have made some wonderful new friends. And read some wonderful books in the process.

But oh my, once in a while we have a clunker.

We are trying now to add some criteria to better ensure that our book selections will be good ones. Because sometimes we have let someone choose a book just because they haven’t selected yet, and it’s nice to give everyone a turn. And sometimes they pick a book out of the blue that they know nothing about, but they think we all might like it. But we don’t.

It’s what happens then that is interesting.

Some people – for the best of reasons – they want to enrich their lives reading great books – are tremendously disappointed by a mediocre (or worse) book. The comments tend to be along the lines of

  • “I can’t attend the meeting because I have nothing good to say.”
  • “I’ll never get those hours back.”
  • “What a waste of money.”
  • “Don’t ever let that person choose again.”
  • “I’ve read 20 pages and I’m stopping right there.”

I always feel really bad when that happens. Sometimes I dislike the book myself. But I can still discuss it. Civilly. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer myself and so there is always an underlying empathy for the author who spent months and years putting the story together. When writers critique other writers, we try very hard to pick out something good about the writing and make sure we emphasize it, in addition to pointing out what may not be successful.

And as far as “a waste of time” goes – well, yes. I would rather spend my time reading something that thrills me. But if you have ever watched television or played a computer game or gone for a drive on a Sunday afternoon or even listened to a five-year-old tell a very long story – well, just don’t talk to me about how your hours are too precious. We all waste a hell of a lot of time. Reading anything does not qualify as a waste.

I once witnessed someone (forgive me because I am pretty sure I have told this story before) pick up a book from a friend’s kitchen table and say, “Who is reading this trashy novel?” I was mortified. Not for the person whose book is was but for the rudeness of the person’s comment. It’s a book! It’s reading! That’s ALWAYS a good thing! Nancy Drew leads to Jane Eyre and Jane Eyre leads to Jane Austen and Jane Austen leads to … anywhere!

Now I agree that life is too short to spend time reading a book you don’t like. There are just too many good books out there to read a poor one. But although I may not always finish a mediocre book, I will always start a book with high expectations and give it a chance. Who knows? It may surprise or please or teach you.

Last month our book club had a rather unfortunate choice. At the prior meetings, no one was forthcoming with suggestions but one very nice woman brought up a novel that was set in a time period that interested her. So we went with it.

It was not the worst book I ever read – but it was far from the best. It was ordinary in every way. The heroine was perfect. The hero was perfect. The plot and the writing were not perfect. And the ending was predictable.

But the time period – World War II – was interesting, with an original point of view.

Many of these very smart and nice women in the book club, moaned and groaned about the assigned book. Some complained to me privately in emails, some just said “uggh” when the time came during our very good luncheon to discuss the not-so-good novel.

There is one woman in our book club – she is brilliant and well-read and soft spoken.

She said, “World War II was a fascinating time for everyone, and especially for women, who took on responsibilities previously denied them. I brought a few excerpts from a little memoir my mother wrote. She was in the military during the war.”

And she shared with us the captivating and strong and sweet reminiscences of her incredible mother.

Which we would not have known existed if we hadn’t been unfortunate enough to choose that lousy book.

Which is pretty fortunate after all.

15 Comments

  1. I’ve never belonged to a book club but I have sometimes been loaned books by friends or watched TV programs that they recommended and sometimes I haven’t liked them. I recognise that a particular friend tends to have a better stomach for violence than I do and that he shares his favourites with his friends because he thinks we might like them too. I usually get through the books. He introduced me to Stieg Larssen and I did like those books but wouldn’t read them over and over because of the violence. The TV shows I quiz him about and sometimes watch an episode or two but I’ll just say “It wasn’t my cup of tea.” not that it was bad if I couldn’t stomach it. If the main purpose of a book club is to discuss what we read then shouldn’t it be “I didn’t care for the book because…” or, “I thought that the characters were good but the plot was weak.” rather than just groaning and blaming the person who chose it?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I think it is entirely possible to have a good discussion about a book you don’t like.

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  2. Exactly what I was thinking, Taswegian 1957! I belonged to a book club for a few years. We didn’t always like the book but we could at least discuss why we didn’t like it…and usually there was someone that thought it was fine. Not everyone is a literary critic, and I didn’t think book clubs were that anyway. I think they are groups of people trying to stretch their reading to places they might not go on their own. In that sense, we should ALL be reading things we don’t initially (or ever) like. The only way to find out if you like something is to try it. I would definitely not blame the person that chose it. Nor would I deny that person another turn at picking a book. I left the book club because it turned out the original members had all worked at the same place and their discussion aside from a bit about the books, was all about their previous work, which didn’t include me and I felt very much an outsider. Ah well…I can still stretch my reading in other ways!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did not see the kind of book club that I wanted, so I started one… You may want to do the same!

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  3. Not a member of any club but my mum will often recommend different TV show she things i would like and i do the same to her

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    • It’s nice to share our enthusiasm for books, tv, movies.

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  4. It is hard to finish some books. I keep hoping they will ‘get better’. I love your perspective.

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    • Thanks…. I don’t think (once you are out of school and ‘required’ reading) that you should feel obligated to finish a book you don’t like.But you should always give it a fair shot.

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  5. It does strike me as very rude to complain about a book in front of the person who recommended it, and rather short-sighted to want to ban that person from choosing again. But I do agree with the main point of your post: reading isn’t wasted, even if what we gain from a particular book isn’t what we had anticipated. Sometimes we just have to wait a little bit to see what we have gained from the experience. Yet another reason not to judge too harshly!

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    • Exactly! And we can learn from bad writing too. As a writer, I can see cliches and plot holes and character inconsistencies, and they help me to be a better writer.

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  6. I am almost always willing to give a new author (or new genre of writing) a try. I’ve “accepted” recommendations from friends and my local librarian with mixed results. Sometimes the book(s) they suggest stir something in me, sometimes they don’t, but I approach them with an open mind (and with a “Three Chapter rule” – if I’m not completely drawn into the story by the end of Chapter 3, or find some redeeming feature in the writing style, I put it down and go on to something else). I’ve never been in an “official” book club, but I often discuss likes and dislikes with other friends (both readers and fellow writers) and in every case, opinions differ. That’s what makes the world go round (and, let’s face it, an editor/publisher is a human being, so books get published because someone in the company liked the book while another editor/publisher didn’t – JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series being the most obvious case in point!)

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    • The 3-Chapter rule is a good one!

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  7. Ray G

    How can anyone agree to read an “assigned” book? Is this a journey back to high school? Does someone have a need to be a teacher?

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    • No. Not at all. A book club is something you join VOLUNTARILY – and agree to all read the same books so you can have a good discussion (and a nice lunch).

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  8. I’m one of those people who will not start a book and not finish it. I just can’t do it. Too much blood sweat and tears goes into even a bad book and there is always hope that it will turn around. I remember reading the first “Girl with a Dragon Tattoo”, the first part of that book dragged horribly and then all of a sudden we were off and running and you couldn’t stop. Everyone I talked to said the same thing, just get by that first part and you won’t be sorry. The series just got better.
    On the other hand I knew better than to even try to read the “50 Shades of Grey”. It stunned me that there were more books and then movies. I still don’t understand it.
    The bottom line is that you will never please everyone all of the time but when you hit that one diamond, wow, it’s all worth it.

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