To celebrate Book Riot’s first birthday on Monday, we’re running our best 50 posts from our first year this week. Click here for the running list. This post originally ran November 2, 2011.
So, your book club is getting ready to meet and you’ve read….the cover blurbs. You really wanted to read the book. Really. But, well, you know how it goes. And you wouldn’t mind copping to it, but you also sort of didn’t read the last few books, and it’s getting embarrassing.
Here are some ways to shine it on (but seriously, read the book next time.)
1. Read the first seven pages and the last seven pages.
This will both familiarize you with the characters and give you a sense of where the book ends up. It’ll also give you at least a little knowledge, so if asked a direct question, you have some sort of answer and can avoid a direct hit.
If you have a few minutes, Google can do wonders. Classics are easily cribbed on SparkNotes and Wikipedia. Synopses of more recent books can be more difficult to track down, but the book blog search engine is a goldmine. Damn near every book you are likely to have not read will have several entries that will let you go beyond summary and character lists to find some more substantial topics for your fakery.
This will come in handy for #2…
2. Reframe Direct Questions
You see PR people do this all the time. Basically, don’t answer the question asked, answer the question you want to answer, then reverse it.
Q: Do you think it was fair when [character] did [action]?
A: I don’t really know if it was fair, but it seemed believable. Was I the only one?
3. Reflect the Reactions of Others
I volunteered for a few years at a suicide hotline, and the number one tool at our disposal was a technique they called “acknowledge and reflect.”
Here’s an example:
Caller: It just seems like nothing is ever going to get any better and no one understands.
Volunteer: It sounds like you are feeling lonely and stuck. What would like to see change?
It seems obvious and reductive, but boy does it work. The basic insight of this technique is that most of the time people just want to be heard. Not fixed or consoled or told what to do. Just heard. This is as true of talking about books as it is talking about life issues. If you let other people know that you want to hear what they have to say (or pretend to want to hear it), most of the time you aren’t going to be suffering much silence.
Book Club Member: But, god Holden Caulfield is just such a whiner and he made the book unbearable.
You: You really seem bothered by people who complain a lot. What about complaining bothers you so much?
4. Don’t Be a Hero
This is a variation of a tactic I’ve seen students who have not done the reading use in class. The idea is to lay low at the beginning, identify issues and talking points, and then argue for a pre-established position. Remember, you’re not going for glory here, you are trying to blend in and survive.
5. Strategic Proximal Absence
When the conversation turns from pre-game chatter to direct discussion of the book, get up and go find something to do in the kitchen, but keep an ear out. Don’t stay in there for an hour, just wait until someone says something you can glom onto. Rush in like you didn’t want to miss this part and ask for a recap. This should give you time to come up with a quick something to say. Plus, your wine will be topped off.
6. Create a Diversion
For this one, you need at least a cursory knowledge of the book (just characters and basic plot. See #1). Then, steer the conversation toward what a movie adaptation would be like. Who would play the main roles? Would it make a good movie? What’s the best adaptation you’ve seen? Don’t you just love SnoCaps?
See what I did there?
7. Be Bold
Not for the timid, this “shoot first” strategy gives you the chance to control the beginning of the conversation and then sit back, your contribution already in the bank.
Your moment comes when you feel like the group has nearly completed preliminary small talk and is settling in. Your goal here is to be the first mover and the first one to turn to discussing the book. Channel your inner professor and ask a question of the “So what did everyone think of the book?” variety. No one ever asks the master of ceremonies to dance, if you know what I mean.
With pluck and a little gamesmanship, you’ve come out clean on the other side of your discussion of The Help. But don’t skip The Night Circus for next month; it really is a good read.