Oh man. OH MAN!!! Tonight’s book club was something else. Because this was the Everybody Reads book group, the library brought in an ‘expert’ to facilitate our discussion. You know it’s going to get interesting when they bring in an ‘expert.’ Last year’s expert wanted to bring in all kinds of sociological theories but the discussion group pretty much shut her down and to her credit she mostly sat back and let us discuss the book which is what one would expect in a book group. This gal… oh man.
She starts out by introducing herself. She’s about as American as they come yet she pronounced her name with as much French inflection as she could. That kind of thing annoys me… but I was still willing to give her a chance. But then she went into a fifteen minute lecture on post-modern literary theory (she’s a Professor at PSU). The book is just an artifact, it has no meaning, it’s just squiggles of ink on pressed wood-pulp. Which of course begs the question of why the hell we’re there to discuss it if there’s no meaning to it at all. But I patiently waited and listened as she went on to talk about the three types of questions we’re allowed to ask of the book, fact based questions, interpretation questions (as the only meaning the book has is our interpretations of it), and value questions - was the book good or bad (but then she immediately states that this is the most useless kind of question).
Oh man. She just went on and on. Then right when I thought we might actually get to discuss the book she feels the need to point out that although it’s called a “memoir” we really shouldn’t treat it as “fact” that the only truth is that which we bring to it, etc etc etc… that the literature professors of the world would like to eliminate the distinction between fiction & nonfiction. And that when we learn to treat all books as constructs we won’t be as likely to be "duped" by memoirs that turn out to be fabricated. OH MAN!!
So *finally* about twenty minutes into the hour discussion, someone other than the ‘facilitator’ gets to ask a question. A fellow discusser comments that she didn’t feel a very strong emotional connection to the book and asks for some clarifications about the family situation. I answer her question about the family and agree that I didn’t feel that much of an emotional connection to the author either. At which point the facilitator corrects me by saying “This character the author created.” I have never wanted so much to hurl a book across the room at someone as I did in that moment. Instead I gathered myself and very patiently said that “In my interpretation of the book, I’m choosing to believe that the author *is* the character he is writing about in his memoir.” To which she further enlightened me by pointing out that “Saying something is ‘made up’ has such a negative connotation, but it really doesn’t need to.” OH MAN!!!!
The rest of the ‘discussion’ followed much the same vein. People attempted to discuss the book and the facilitator interrupted us, corrected our naïve and uneducated ‘interpretations’ of the story, and periodically brought up the fact that books portraying wars in Western Africa are merely feeding into our society’s innate racism. Oh man. It’s possible I was imagining the sigh of relief I heard when the librarian came in and told us it was time to wrap things up. But as we were filing out of the library it was clear that I was not the only one who had a problem with our facilitator. I had to reassure a first time visitor that typically it’s just one of the lowly community members (not a licensed, bonded facilitator) who leads the discussion and that lacking a Ph.D. in literature, we usually just let everyone you know… discuss the book.
Oh well. There’s always next month.