Tale of Two Reading Groups
One of my reading groups has just ended, and the other one revived.
After over two months, our book club finally met again Sunday night. I came directly from an eight-hour shift, unshowered and tie-askew. I prepared myself for the worst as I feared that everyone hated The Satanic Verses and would, correspondingly, hate me. It was just Nina (our sole girl) and I for the first forty minutes, so we gossiped and I made her jealous of my WORN internship and we finished off a pitcher of sangria. Then the boys arrived and we ordered another one.
Patrick, our soft-spoken engineer (and, as it turns out, an industrial artist) was the first to bring up Mr. Rushdie. “Max, it took me two months, and I read the final sixty pages today, but I finished the book… and I didn’t hate it.”
That made it all worth it.
Nina gave us special not-for-sale copies of our next book from her publishing house and I buzzed my way home in order to have a cold shower and rewrite my final column for my Ryerson class, before collapsing in bed around midnight.
This is my life right now.
Last night was our final column-writing class. I stressed out all weekend over my last submission. I wanted it to be good because of what had happened last time. The previous week, when we were supposed to hand in our “perfect” column (one which reflected everything we had learned in the class), I had proudly submitted my ‘Up to You’ story, which I thought was one of the strongest, most emotional things I had written.
And the class destroyed the first two paragraphs; “run-on sentences”; “hiding behind jokes”; “too detailed”; “too long”; “confusing”; “keeps the reader at a distance”. It felt like Lord of the Flies. The hardest thing to hear was the question “Who did you write this for? Was it for yourself?”
Even in the middle of the massacre, I knew they were right.
“Well, that was the hardest class so far,” I said to my friend Ricki as we wandered out.
“Truthfully, I really liked it and I didn’t notice what everyone was talking about when I first read it,” she said. “But now I see it.”
You don’t take workshops to get praise. You take them to get better.
So, after meeting up with the Gentleman at a Chinese restaurant and allowing myself to be distracted by his rationalization of why he won’t be cancelling his speech at Pride over the anti-Israel scandal (a decision I was proud of), I sat at my laptop in his apartment rewriting the entire beginning of the story. And I made it better. I considered sending it back out to my class, but then I thought that would look crazy and obsessive (“DO YOU LOVE ME NOW?”), and besides, I didn’t do it for them. I did it for myself and for you guys, the readers.
Last night we went around evaluating our ‘voices’. I said that I write the way I talk, which is a strength but also a weakness. For instance, I have to avoid run-on sentences, making assumptions about what the reader knows or cares about, and throwing in extraneous details which would be charming in person but tiresome in writing.
I had sent an email thanking the class for helping me become a stronger writer, and suggesting that we could continue to meet up on our own for occasional workshops, if people wanted. I haven’t got any response yet. But as I was walking to the subway with Ricki, I described the crazy busyness of the last couple of days.
“You have a book club?” she asked. “Can I join?”