It felt weird to be on campus after 7pm. Kate wasn’t the sort of person to work late - she knew a lot of the professors who lived for their job but she wasn’t that kind of girl. She got in when her contract stated she had to (or, at least within 30 minutes of that point) and then left the second she was allowed (or earlier, if something came up that she thought she could get away with).
The grassy stretches that were usually filled with students strolling, talking and picnicking were empty and already collecting moisture from the evening air. The buildings stood like temples and Kate felt her usual twinge of inadequacy at what lay inside them and how much she had missed out by not finishing up her own education.
“Spooky isn’t it?” Said Polly, making Kate jump as her words broke into Kate’s musings.
“Yeah, it is a little.” Kate smiled, glad her sister was with her.
“Which building is it in?”
“Rogers Building - this one up here on the left.” Kate said, indicating with the new notepad she had bought. The automatic doors swished open and the two women stepped into the bright lighting of the foyer, looking about for numbers on the doors. “This way.” Kate said, leading Polly to the left. She felt a curious surge of sibling pride and rivalry in knowing the campus better than Polly. Of course she did: she worked here. But it was Mum and Dad’s campus, and it was knowledge and for once Kate had to lead the way. Studying the door numbers to make sure she found the right door was squashing her nerves down too. Her fingers were clammy and sweaty against the notepad she had bought and the new pen clutched against it.
They found the right door, propped open with a fire extinguisher and in they went. Inside was a circle of chairs with 6 people of various ages all sitting smiling at the newcomers.
“Hi,” Polly said assertively, “I’m Polly and this is my sister Kate.” Kate flinched, now she was Polly’s sister instead of just Kate. But it was better than having tried to do this alone, she decided. She knew deep down she would still be on the sofa at home if she hadn’t shown the flyer to Polly and suggested they join the Book Club together. Polly had leapt at the idea.
“Kate! Yes! Oh I’ve been dying to see you get out and do something, and this will be so good. I’ve always wanted to be in a book club.”
Ryan was left at home with kids and the two of them made their way up to campus. Of course, Kate had made a shopping list of things she definitely needed if she was going to be in a book club. First stop was Paperchase for a pretty notebook that she could write down clever thoughts in. Then there’d been a 3 for 2 sale in there so she’d bought a lovely, smooth writing pen to write down her clever thoughts with. Then, her eye had been caught by some pretty little tab stickers which she thought would be useful for marking places in the book that were important to discuss. It had been really hard to choose which stickers she wanted: the little monkeys with bananas which were fun or the more simple (probably more grown up and book clubbish ones) ones with glitter on them. She’d decided to get both and decide which to use once she’d felt the vibe of the Book Club and whether these people were all wacky weirdos or stimulated intellectuals. Of course, choosing two packets of stickers meant she was now into a second batch of 3 for 2 so she chose a pen in a different colour (to indicate maybe a negative thought about the book while the other one could be positive?) And another notebook that already came full of bullet points. That way she record all the many hundreds of books she would read through the book club. Being in a book club was turning out expensive and she hadn’t even bought the first book they’d be reading yet but it was OK because she had a Paperchase card so the points she was earning probably cancelled out what she was spending anyway by the time she redeemed them against Christmas presents in December.
“Come on in and sit down!” Smiled a woman sitting at what might be considered the head of the circle. Kate wasn’t sure why she thought this - it was a circle after all, but something about the way she was sitting made Kate think she was probably in charge. Polly and Kate smiled and sat down in two vacant seats. “We were just about to start. Thank you so much for coming. We’re just finishing up on a book today, so you can listen while we discuss that one, and then we will be choosing a new book at the end of the session.”
“Lovely,” said Polly, arranging her ankles neatly over each other, “What book have you been reading?”
“The Picture of Dorian Gray, have you read it?” Sasha asked.
“Yes,” said Sasha, adding an “of course” that Kate didn’t think was completely necessary.
“And you, Kate, have you read it?” Sasha asked, smiling sweetly.
“No.” Said Kate, and then immediately wondered why because she had read it. She opened her mouth to correct the lie, and then closed it again realising that if they thought she hadn’t read it she wouldn’t have to answer questions about it. She would answer questions next time.
“Yes you have!” Squawked Polly, looking sharply at Kate, “You read it at school!”
Kate floundered, looking around the group in embarassment, “Oh, well… yeah… I read it at school.” Kate admitted, stuttering a bit as she tried to swallow her mortification. “I didn’t think that really counted though, does it? Things you read at school?” She had actually read it since then as well because she’d liked it so much but there was no need to admit that here to these strangers.
One of the men sitting over the other side of the circle smiled reassuringly at her, “Absolutely not - for some of us school was too long ago. We can’t count anything I read at school unless you can read hieroglyphics!” Kate laughed, and thanked him with her eyes - hoping he understood. He winked back and she felt like he did.
“I can read hierolgyphics actually!” Said the woman sitting next to Polly, and every head in the circle turned to look at her. She had a prim little face and perfect lipstick.
“So can I!” Polly said, looking at the woman with eyebrows raised.
“I’m a curator at the Museum,” the woman side, giving Polly a slight patronising smile that Kate was sure Polly wouldn’t enjoy.
“I’m a professor of Ancient History.” Polly said returning the smile. The friction between them was already palpable.
“Isn’t that lovely. I’m sure you two will have plenty to talk about then!” Said Sasha warmly, Kate was really warming to her. She was absolutely sure that the second she and Polly got in the car there would be a small tirade from Polly about how much she hated this woman, but Kate was already mentally thinking of this woman as Polly 2. Polly 2 pulled her copy of Dorian Gray out of her bag and the others followed suit. Kate twiddled her Positive notes pen.
“So, for Polly, Kate and Maggie’s benefit,” Kate looked across at the other woman in the circle who didn’t have a copy of Dorian Gray, “We meet every fortnight and we usually try to be about halfway through the book for one session, to discuss it before we’ve finished and then we meet again at the end to see how our reflections have changed now we have the full picture. Today we’re finishing up with Dorian Gray so, let me start with a question and we’ll see where we go from here… Last year we read Jekyll & Hyde, and in both these books there was the idea that you could separate your negative behaviour from yourself in some way, why do you think both authors chose to have this action fail to make the protagonist happy?”
Polly’s hand shot into the air and Kate groaned inwardly. She shrank down into her chair and let the conversation wash over here; silently disagreeing with a lot of what Polly and Polly2 were saying, even though they were managing to disagree with each other completely and yet still totally miss the point of the book. By 40 minutes in Kate was dying for a cigarette and wondering how much longer they could discuss a book that only took about an hour total to read.
“The thing is,” said Polly 2, introducing yet another ‘thing’ to the long list of wildly innacurate ‘things’ she had already made the book about, “Actually, what’s at the core of the book is criticism of how dependant human’s are on machinery.”
There was a silence in the circle which Polly 2 took to be absolute astonishment at how insightful she had been, but everyone else knew was just a beat where they tried to count how many ways that statement was baffling.
“That seems like a good place to wrap up!” Said Sasha brightly, “So, of the five of us who were here last time - what books are we suggesting to read next. I’ll start - I would like to put forward “David Copperfield” because I’ve never read a Dickens. Joe?”
The younger of the two men wriggled forward in his chair a little bit, “My suggestion is Interview With The Vampire. Er, yeah.” He looked back down at his feet, shy.
“Thanks Joe, Liesel?” Said Sasha.
“I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice actually, I know! I know! It’s a classic but I’ve just never got round to it. So, that one.” Every word out of Liesel’s mouth came with a little giggle.
“Pride and Prejudice, ok,” said Sasha, making a note. “Frank?”
“Oh, that new one from whatsisname from Pointless. The Murder Club?” Frank said, waving a hand at the words he couldn’t remember.
“The Thursday Murder Club?” Asked Sasha.
“That one, yep.”
“Ok! A modern novel - fun! And, Clara?”
Ah, so Polly 2 was called Clara. Kate decided she preferred Polly 2.
“Well, really I think we should be stretching ourselves so I did want to suggest…”
Sasha held up a hand to interrupt, “Solly, Clara - just wanted to reiterate, let’s try not to suggest things that have already been suggested before and not been popular. Just to keep things moving.”
Polly 2 frowned and straightened her back, “Fine,” she said through tight lips, “I’ll read Dante’s Inferno on my own time if I must. How would Gulliver’s Travels suit the group?”
Sasha nodded and marked that down on her pad too. “Ok,” she smiled at the group, “Let’s take a vote shall we?”
Which book should the group choose?
- David Copperfield
- Interview with the Vampire
- Pride and Prejudice
- The Thursday Murder Club
- Gulliver’s Travels