I know you're never supposed to say never (who knows what life will bring) but here's something that I will never-ever do. And I mean it. I will never join a book club. I don't care if an Ivy League English professor moderates the discussion or it's filled with literati.
I'm not a club person to begin with and, honestly, I just don't get the whole notion of having one about books. Why do I want a gaggle of readers dictating my literature? Picking a book--I mean truly immersing in one--is one of the few things in life that comes without any ties. Everything else has strings attached. I must meet deadlines (and read relevant literature for them). I'm obligated to my husband, four children, two dogs, three goldfish, and one tortoise--all of whom require varying degrees of food, walks, and nurturing.
There's nothing more thrilling--I mean sheer ecstasy--than finishing a book and having the entire literary universe available for my next venture. It's truly liberating. Unlike say, buying clothes (where price, fashion and so much else cramps your style) or watching a movie at home (where HBO or whatever channel dictates the offerings), you can read whatever book you want. And if you don't want to pay, just go to the library or ask a friend.
If I'm feeling sarcastic, maybe I'll pick up a Somerset Maugham; silly, I'll grab a Bill Bryson. Maybe I'm in the mood for historical fiction or craving real history. Perhaps I'll mull over a Dostoevsky or race through a Harlan Coben. It's my whim and I don't need to defend it to anyone. (I was a bit dismayed after I spent five days re-reading War and Peace this summer and then found out Franzen's fictional Patty did the same thing. I didn't want any kind of bond with her, even if she's just a figment of his seemingly depressed imagination.)
Don't get me wrong. I love talking books with other readers, but I don't want it to be a mandated day of the month or an assignment. I love the spontaneity of sitting on the subway and realizing the person next to me is reading a book that I just finished and perhaps we'll compare notes. Or better yet, I'll find out that a recent acquaintance is reading the same thing and we have common ground we never knew we shared. Even better, I love bonding with other people (there's not many of us) who also loathe the notion of book clubs. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I don't care to belong to a book club that accepts people like me as members.
Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank. She is an adjunct professor at the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University and the managing editor of the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine. She lives in New York City with her husband, four children, two dogs, three goldfish and one tortoise.