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facts & arguments

I hate my book club. I'm making a break for it.

I've been unhappy with it for some time but I'd simply thought of it as the sort of obligation I'd go on with for the rest of my life, complaining all the way to my grave.

Until, that is, I found myself in possession of 12 glorious days of vacation. It felt like a vast and ripe expanse of time. I'd sleep in! I'd spend lazy days reading in bed! I canvassed trusted friends and websites for recommendations. Then I turned an eye toward my bookshelves, laden with all the books I'd acquired and hadn't gotten around to reading. I pulled out a few novels and made a tidy stack.

In short, I got excited about books I'd given up on reading. The pile grew steadily and I realized what I was really doing was scheming a plan for my year, not just my vacation, in books.

Placing the 10th book on top of the pile I knew what was going to happen, what had to happen. I was going to quit my monthly club. I was going to read these books - my books! - all 10. I could not be interrupted in this pursuit by the fancies of the herbal-tea-drinking book club members who were waiting to attack my opinions.

When I joined the club, my husband had just walked out the door for the last time and I was in the market for some new people and experiences to fill up my time.

"Why not?" I thought. I love to read and a monthly get-together with like-minded women sounded wonderfully nostalgic in this technological age. The book club, I thought, could be therapeutic. It would provide a focus. So when my friend extended an invitation into her club, the siren call proved impossible to evade.

I enjoyed it for the first few months. But then we read Love in the Time of Cholera, an old favourite I was excited to share and discuss with the other five women.

Everyone hated it. Vehemently.

As the sole appreciator of the Nobel Prize-winning author, I was made to sit on the "hot seat," otherwise known as a folding chair placed on the opposite side of the room from the sofas my fellow book club members lounged on. From here I had to defend myself and Gabriel Garcia Marquez from an onslaught of wrath.

"I want to take everyone's copy of this book into the backyard and make a bonfire with them!" said one woman, to a veritable round of applause.

"How could Oprah recommend such a bad book?"

Later in the meeting, the friend who'd invited me into the club disclosed a funny but confidential story about how I'd been kicked out of therapy. I don't know if it was that embarrassment, or the utter trashing of something I loved deeply, but either way I never recovered from that meeting. The book club became something I looked upon with dread.

I'm not alone. Book clubs, and the enjoyment of them, go south for all sorts of reasons. It's so common that the moderating of book clubs has become a paying job. Groups bring in paid facilitators (often retired professors or librarians) to assist with everything from selecting titles to providing study guides. Probably the most useful thing they do is lead the discussion, preventing it from devolving into the latest celebrity gossip and preventing aggressive personalities from getting out of hand.

I'd failed to consider the problems that could arise when varied tastes in literature collided. I didn't want to read chick lit so I became the Book Snob. I grew to resent spending precious time reading and contemplating books I hadn't picked for myself.

Above all, I had misconceived notions of what a book club ought to be. I thought group discussion would make me a more sophisticated reader, widen the scope of authors I read. Perhaps this would happen while sipping tea and nibbling scones with clotted cream. I thought the book club would further my enjoyment of literature, but ultimately it hindered it.

I realized, glancing at the pile of books I'd built in preparation for my holiday, a book doesn't need to be shared to be enjoyed. A writer writes in solitude; a reader reads in solitude. Reading is a solitary act, an intimate encounter that passes between author and reader. For me, the book club was turning something fiercely private into a locker room story. I felt dirty.

Fixing my book club was not an option, but how to tactfully bow out, especially since I want to remain friends with some of the members?

I turned to Miss Manners, who wrote in one of her columns: "In the case of clubs, those who do not enjoy them are free to resign. A real letter would be best, saying, 'It has been a privilege to be in your club, but unfortunately I find that other commitments prevent me from continuing. I wish you all well.' "

I'm with Miss Manners. I'll gloss over the real reasons as she suggests - at the end of a relationship, it's too painful to beat a dead horse. It's not you, Book Club, it's me. Really.

But blow my fancy stationery on it? I'd rather send an e-mail.

Leslie Sinclair lives in Toronto.