Posted 5/24/22

WOODWORKING Antipathy for book clubs Every now and then, I worry that my Beautiful Wife and I aren’t particularly well-matched. As I’ve certainly mentioned before, Ruth is a very classy dresser, …

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Antipathy for book clubs

Every now and then, I worry that my Beautiful Wife and I aren’t particularly well-matched. As I’ve certainly mentioned before, Ruth is a very classy dresser, while I’m perfectly happy to repurpose clothing worn by my late Uncle Gene, because they fit my porcine frame. Ruth eats like the little mice who eat their weight every day and she never gains a pound. If I as much as look at a granola bar, I fear I’ll break the scale when I return for my annual physical. (So, I feel for the publisher of this newspaper as he embarks on his recently announced diet.)

And there’s more that separates Ruth and me. When I retired in 1998, after 40 years of teaching literature and assessing new books every week for my job at the Star Tribune, I swore I’d never evaluate a recent tome and only read books about history, biography, and pop culture. And I have kept that promise. Ruth on the other hand, taught literature in high schools and the University of Minnesota and at UW-River Falls for longer than my days as a cracker of books, almost until her eyeballs fell out.

And so what did she do when she finally retired 10 years ago? She joined three book clubs in River Falls, not consecutively but all at the same time!

Typical conversation: “Ruthie, would you like to dine out tonight? “No dear, I have the University Alumni Book Club.” “Well then how about tomorrow night?” “Oh, that’s the night of the author Dan Woll’s book club…”

“Ruthie, would you like to eat supper early tonight.” "No, dear, I have to finish reading Larry Millett’s latest book about architectural masterpieces on Summit Av- enue. I should be finished by 9 p.m.”

“Then how about early supper tomorrow night?”

“That’s the night we’re discussing Millett’s book.”

And so it goes at the Wood manse. When I’m out on the street or invited to some English prof’s house for dinner, the question is inevitable. “Dave, after 50 years of teaching literature and reviewing books, I bet you miss it and still read everything that comes your way?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, no, I don’t. I read magazines because the stories are shorter and, well, ah, I’m something of a TV addict … I don’t like to miss reruns of ‘Frasi- er' and my film noir classics hosted by Eddie Muller on TCM…..”

“REALLY!? You gotta be kidding? Everyone around here belongs to a book club. They even have book club discussions in the town’s saloons…”

“Yes, really. For me, that would be as ou-putting as a busman’s holiday …”

They shake their heads and turn to a more interesting dinner guest.

Understand, Gentle Reader, that I’m not bragging about my literary slothery, one of readers’ seven deadly sins. But after a youth spent stuttering an answer to a favorite prof’s question about the meaning of Frost’s “Stopping Woods on a Snowy Evening” or being exposed by a snotty student for admitting to not having read Milton’s “Samson Agonistes,” I must say I revel in the sloth dished up by my favorite TV shows. I’ve had it with literary analysis.

At least I thought so until recently when I ran across a dusty tome stuued away on one of our bookshelves that I never got around to reviewing probably because of my antipathy to book clubs. But there it was and the title was so appealing, I dug in. “The End of Your Life Book Club” (Vintage Books, $15, Paper, published in 2012), by Will Schwalbe, an editor at Random House. Despite its ghoulish title, it’s a heartwarming book in which Schwalbe relates his life after his mother is diagnosed with incurable cancer. It begins quietly while they wait together for another chemo treatment. She tells her son what she has been reading and asks him about his reading habits. They discuss every manner of book, from Louisa Mae Alcott to Herman Wouk, from esoteric to down to earth, and Schwalbe discusses how these books relate to their lives and the hopes and fears that surround their family.

That night Ruth returns from yet another book club meeting and I say “Ruthie, I’ve discovered a wonderful book It’s called “The End of Your…”

“…Life Book Club. Yeah, I read it when it came out,” Ruth interjects, “and I told you to take a look.”

Go figure.