Center City YMCA Book Club
Present: Kate Fremont, president; Ann Marie Bryant, recording secretary; Evelyn Holmes, Tobias Colfax, Claire James, and Sylvia Girard, members
Agenda: New business. Book club improvements. Next year’s reading list. Fun!
Meeting comes to order at 7:05 p.m.
Kate introduces special guest Dave Potaine, Center City’s preeminent living writer and author of They Stopped While Others Moved On: The Founding Fathers of Center City: A Biography. Welcome, Mr. Potaine!
Claire apologizes for wondering if the people bringing snacks to future meetings could not use peanuts, or at least post a warning that the snacks contain peanuts or peanut oils, because she thinks her son, Devon, is developing a peanut allergy and she doesn’t want to kiss him good night with peanut residue on her lips and have to take him to the emergency room just because someone couldn’t stop for one minute to consider other people.
Evelyn says her mind couldn’t help but take a literary turn, and that she imagines how different Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past might have been if his famous madeleine had peanuts in it and if Proust were allergic and how that would have affected how he felt about his mother.
Claire says there is nothing literary about food allergies, unless fearing for the very survival of the one thing in your life that has any meaning is literary, which it’s not. Tobias says the only fair solution is to ban all snacks, which would be a good idea anyway, because snacks are just television for your mouth.
Sylvia says a better idea would be to ban Tobias from suggesting any more bans. Secretary tries to lighten the mood by warning the group that she won’t be able to keep bringing her famous beach-read bars.
Sylvia mutters that nobody cares because they’re just scotcheroos anyway.
Book Club Improvements
Dave Potaine suggests a regional authors night. He says that if the club provided a venue, refreshments, and advertising, then his publisher, Small Woods Press, would supply the group with copies (for purchase) of its list, including books such as They Stopped While Others Moved On: The Founding Fathers of Center City: A Biography.
Evelyn wants the club to have a more sophisticated name, something literary like The Left Bank Literary Lions or The Literary Doyennes of Center City. Evelyn also wishes we could meet in a bistro or a coffeehouse, where we could pretend to drink absinthe and have affairs and wear capes.
Tobias objects to the word “literary.” He says we’re reinforcing patriarchal norms and that we need to move away from freighted words like “plot,” “author,” and “novel.” He insists we start using non-hierarchical English, with the understanding that given changes to Center City demographics, the club should eventually be bilingual.
Sylvia says she’d like to move away from all this hand wringing and fantasizing and move toward talking about books for a change.
Claire says she didn’t go to a fancy private school like Cannaught College and that she’s never lived in a big cosmopolitan city like St. Louis, but that if we need to do anything, we need to stop arguing all the time, because what’s the point of reading if all it’s going to do is stir up unwanted thoughts and feelings.
Next Year’s List
During discussion of what to read next year, secretary asks Mr. Potaine if he ever met Sebastian Junger, and if Mr. Junger is as chiseled and handsome as he appears in his author photo, and if Mr. Potaine thinks that Mr. Junger’s handsomeness helps his writing or interferes with his art.
Evelyn says she read in Book magazine that Sebastian Junger opened a bar in New York City, and she thought Center City could use a literary watering hole and says Mr. Potaine should open one.
Mr. Potaine says he doesn’t want to own a bar, and that he has no opinion about Sebastian Junger’s looks other than that Mr. Junger’s publicist is obviously grateful to have such a presentable client.
Evelyn teases Mr. Potaine, saying that he sounds just a smidge jealous of Mr. Junger’s success.
Mr. Potaine says that is nonsense. He says the only thing that matters is the sacred act of writing, which is far more important to him than financial success, critical acclaim, and having complete strangers wanting to fuck you.
Secretary asks Mr. Potaine that he refrain from using such woolly language, but will forgive him because he is clearly so passionate and artistic.
Mr. Potaine apologizes. He says perhaps all the recognition he’s received for his book, They Stopped While Others Moved On: The Founding Fathers of Center City: A Biography, has gone to his head.
Evelyn says this meeting is just like Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain. She says she read somewhere that each character is supposed to represent a different country in Europe!
Sylvia Girard stands up and says she can’t take it anymore and that she has to go and won’t be coming to the next meeting. Kate asks what’s the matter and Sylvia says that we’re very sweet, dear people and she’s sure we’re going to have a lovely book club without her.
Discussion returns to next year’s reading list. All books are approved except Claire’s suggestion for a mystery in which a murder is solved by a cat.
Before meeting adjourns, group expresses regret that Sylvia has decided to quit. Secretary wishes Sylvia well, but never thought she quite fit in. Tobias says that Sylvia was probably feeling overly challenged by the ideas presented in the book club, ideas that upset her comfortable, consumerist worldview. Evelyn observes that Sylvia is a fine person, but that sometimes she mistakes herself for a Salinger character, like a member of the Glass family, or a Caulfield. Claire offers to go over to Sylvia’s house tomorrow and talk to her, but the group agrees it’s better to let her go. Dave Potaine says what just happened reminds him of a scene in his book, They Stopped While Others Moved On: The Founding Fathers of Center City: A Biography, but says he won’t go into specifics, because he doesn’t want to spoil the almost winterlike purity of a fresh, clean read.