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Book Clubs, Books and Satirical Negativity

Book clubs seem to be everywhere—I belong to one and think about joining some others—for example the Huff Post book club or my newly retired friend’s circle of smarties who gather to pursue the classics with far greater depth and seriousness than we ever did in high school or college.  If Fareed Zakaria creates a book club I am definitely in, and another friend (a historian) and I have talked about creating our own two-person history-based book club (but with only two old friends there’s too little at stake if you don’t read what you said you’d read. My personal choice would probably be a club focusing on international thrillers/murder mysteries.

Yes, I do currently belong to a book club. It doesn’t have a name and I joined only because two of my very favorite old buddies were founders and it is a chance to see them. There is a problem however. We each pick one book a year and, unfortunately I always dislike several of the selections!  At first I rationalized belonging as being about friendships but now I am thinking life consists of so many books, so little time so why would I spend time reading books I find dreary, boring, offensive, or badly written?

Last night the book club discussed “Petroleum Man” by Stanley Crawford. Since I’ve been traveling I didn’t have much time to read and, having a premonition about my response to the selection, I decided to borrow and not buy as I usually do. I sat down Saturday to start reading, figuring I would plow through, whether I loved it or not, in the next two or three days. I could not.

I really really dislike this book. Now in all fairness, I only read a little and then skimmed so maybe I missed the good parts. It’s not because I don’t get it…I do!  I am a dyed-in-wool left wing liberal with little admiration for much of anything in the corporate world. That still doesn’t make me a fan of heavy-handed, dated, not-very-clever satire about a very rich, fascist-leaning business dude telling his grandchildren a tale of loathsome liberals. It would have been a brilliant short piece about 10 years ago. It’s not short and it’s not 10 years ago and even if I missed something I am happy to have curled up with my Swedish killers instead.

After the meeting last night where the reviews were mixed, half loving half hating, I thought I should consider why I was in the hating half. Especially since I’ve periodically been criticized for throwing around some heavy-handed satirical passages myself, generally in relation to religion or politics. Satire is said to have the noble intent of societal improvement, using irony and sarcasm to achieve that goal. It is also intended to be humorous. “Petroleum Man” was potentially all of that—in fact the two clubbers who liked the book found it hilarious. I think the sarcasm was tedious, the humor juvenile and the voice relentless. I guess I am not a fan of satire in general, although “Innocents Abroad” mixes it with real reporting and Garrison Keillor’s is gentler (I do love “Lake Wobegon” on the radio but think his books too silly).

It’s not just Stanley Crawford then is it? It’s my inability to appreciate satire—which I am pretty sure is a negative trait.


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