My Mother-Daughter Book Club Fail

Last winter, I adopted a new book buying habit: two copies of particular titles. One for me, one for my mom.

The idea was that we’d long distance co-read titles. It was a method she’d enjoyed with the Harry Potter series, which she picked up, and powered through, with her best friend and her best friend’s sister. They’d had a lot of fun reading together that way, and I suppose I wanted in.

We didn’t set a schedule—just picked a few books and talked progress with each other along the way. Our firsts were Traveling with Pomegranates and Have Mother, Will Travel—overtly mother/daughter books.

I immediately began to falter. Mom made it through Traveling and was onto Have Mother before I’d gotten halfway through the first. I could contribute progress reports, but I could not respond usefully to her opinions or interpretations of our mutual reads.

As a long distance reading partner, I discovered, I stink.

But we powered on: I sent extra copies of books I’d discovered at work that sounded like things we’d both enjoy, and told her to pick our next title. She read through the stack before I’d cracked a page.

On a visit, we stopped into a bookstore after a movie and picked up a Jo Jo Moyes title to add to our list; I, feeling grandiose, threw Piece of Mind in for good measure.

She’d read both within a month. They’re both still in my TBR stack.

It became a pattern—and soon devolved into me simply sending her second copies of books I’d already read and loved, like Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love or Carl Sagan’s Contact, and that I could therefore cheat with; or me sending her second copies of books that I really wanted to read, like The Sparrow and Home, but that I somehow knew I wouldn’t be getting to soon. Kate Morton has been in my pile for three years; my mom is now halfway through The Distant Hours. I haven’t read a bit of it. Life After Life has been top of the stack for a while for me, but Mom already slipped a spoiler in.

In some ways, it’s nice to know that my ideal reading list is seeing some action, even if it’s not coming from my own reading chair. My mom seems to love the titles I send—or at least she pretends to wonderfully—and I suspect I’ll love them with her. Someday.

But as a book club participant, I’m starting to look like the girl who shows up for the free wine, but who can’t distinguish Jane Eyre from I, Robot, even in a pinch. Mom’s read them all; I have nothing to contribute, other than suggestions for what “we” should read next.

Mom is certainly the person who fed my love of reading early on—who filled my room with books and saw to it that we took regular trips to the library, and who went to bat for me when my first grade teacher had the audacity to question the veracity of the long weekly reading lists that I turned in. She encouraged my habit of reading in the car, which she treated like a skill because it made her nauseated, and funneled me new titles when I needed them.

She read to me when I was young, too, of course. But as I grew up, it stopped being something that we did together. For whatever reason—-as she speeds through book piles now, this is beyond my understanding—she didn’t consider herself a reader, per se; that was something she attributed more to me. If we’re taking count, though, she’s far out-reading me these days.

My work is centered in the book world, and (not enough of) my free time goes to it, too; books are something I love, and she deserves credit for that. And thanks. More thanks, I suppose, than my paltry participation in our book exchanges exhibits.

My Mother’s Day package makes a show of our co-reading: it’s filled with books that might be next on the list. I hope that she loves them. And I really, really hope that she doesn’t mind that, when asked “What did you think of the Robinson?,” I’m quite likely to answer “Well, I haven’t gotten there yet.”

This TBR goes to you, Mom. I promise: I’ll try to catch up soon.

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