I have a terrible confession to make. I go to a book group. Once a month I meet with a bunch of people I would otherwise not have met and we talk about books. I’m totally out of the closet as a book geek, book fetishist, book hoarder but this book group thing...it’s a little bit embarrassing for me to admit to. It conjures up images of middle class ladies in a sitting room somewhere, talking about the latest Booker nominees in strained, pretentious tones. Maybe there would be an inoffensive little Chardonnay and after a few minutes talking about the latest breakthrough novel from the “African sub-continent” the room would move on to tuition fees, OFSTED ratings and (as the wine flowed more) their husbands’ latest dalliances. There would be humus (organic) and mixed olives and an undercurrent of hatred and one-upmanship. Whoever was wearing last season’s Per Una item from M and S would be secretly slandered.
This is not the case with the group I go to. It’s on neutral territory (in a cinema function room) and it’s shouty, funny and eclectic. I love it. It’s liberating to be in a room full of people who share your fetish. I imagine that people into wife swapping get this feeling when they enter a swingers’ club for the first time. For me, it wasn’t so much meeting people who liked to throw their car keys into a dish, but meeting people who couldn’t even venture to Tesco without a book stashed in their pocket or bag. I was gratified to read people who crashed through their baggage allowances by trying to take seven novels for a week in Corfu.
I’ve met some amazing people who I would never have met. I’ve made some superb friends who I also see to talk about things which aren’t books and of course books too. There’s a certain bonding which occurs when you’re shouting out about how much you hated the sex scene in Chapter Three and a definite link with people when you confess that an embarrassingly profound and arty book that everyone pretends to love was just so much waffle to you. I'm not a natural "joiner-in" and have gladly discovered that actually, when it's right for me, I can join in and am welcomed.
I’ve also got to read some books I wouldn’t have ever considered (Science Fiction) and learned that certain authors will never again darken my book shelf as they irritate the hell out of me (Terry Pratchet). I’ve learnt that certain classics I thought I knew all about are not what I thought they were all about. I’ve also managed to bully and hector whole groups of people into reading books I’m passionate about. I also now hate them slightly for not loving these books too, but I’ll get over it.
I suppose the point I’m making is whatever your activity, your passions or hobbies: make like E.M. Forster and connect with others (see Howard’s End. It’s a quotation from a book which I’ve thrown in just to prove that I have read stuff). It’s what life’s about.