Chunks of mango and pineapple hit the wall of the blender, loudly whizzing around with coconut milk and kale leaves as I make a Turmeric Lemon Cleanser—our most popular smoothie at work. I’m convinced everyone just orders it because it’s called a TLC, and anything with both self care and the word cleanser in the title, people will clamber over one another to get at in a quest of Pinterest worthy self-actualization.
I was clocked in with the blender screaming in one ear, and the deafening hiss of the espresso machine steamer frothing milk in the other, when my co-worker Kelsey asks me if I like to read.
Initially I thought he’d asked if I liked weed, and I was trying to figure out how to break the news gently that the only type of herbs I consume were the ones from my deck—lots of mint, some thyme, oregano and rosemary—that I used while cooking healthy, cost-effective meals. Which likely wasn’t going to go down a treat at my new job—a hippy cafe that doesn’t carry fat free milk, but offers organic two percent, coconut, almond, soy, and rice milk. Let’s just say they’re not catering to the basic bitches, and I think cheeba (literally had to google ‘nicknames for weed,’ and then cross reference my findings with Urban Dictionary) is kind of a prerequisite with this crowd.
When I realized he’d asked me about reading instead, I was relieved, and quickly told him I loved reading, which I do. Which is when he asked me what kinds of things I read. This is always a tricky question.
Mostly because I have the literary taste of a 13-year-old girl. And if it doesn’t have a princess or a cringeworthy meet cute, I won’t like it.
Kelsey has a tall skinny build, dark wavy hair, and deeply tanned skin and wears the same pair of rust colored cutoffs nearly every day to work. He’s an avid yogi, teaches surf lessons, and used to lead tours in Central and South America. Whenever anyone on the job needs a little pick-me-up, he becomes the in-house health shot chef, and creates a foul concoction of cayenne pepper, ginger, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice that’s sure to brighten your day (and sit at the bottom of your stomach for the rest of your shift). And when I was going to throw out a cluster of rotting bananas (there were flies), he threw them in a blender with avocado and cacao to make the best mousse I’ve ever tasted. I was pretty sure our literary tastes weren’t going to align.
“Um, I like reading loads of different things,” I lied through my teeth. “Especially Meg Cabot and Sophie Kinsella,” I tacked on at the end, confident he wouldn’t recognize the authors à la The Princess Diaries and Confessions of a Shopaholic. He didn’t.
I eagerly turned the question back on him, and he rambled off an impressive list of the classics, then started on sci-fi and spirituality. It was clear he had actually read all those books on my ‘fantastic intentions’ list. They’re The Catcher in the Rye, A Clockwork Orange and the Odyssey, or written by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. The ones that don’t ever make it to the top of the pile due to the lack of tall, dark and handsome and their inability to give me butterflies.
I scraped my mind for something intellectual to contribute to the conversation and fell short. What was the last book I read that’s worth bragging about?
Everyone knows the book list from school doesn’t count. Except for Kate Chopin’s The Awakening which, while required reading, really resonated with me, in part because she just can’t even (like these renaissance babies, which I consider to be BuzzFeed’s best work) at the end and floats away into the ocean. Which, come senior year, I think I was about ready to do. I read the whole thing in the bathtub as well, which I think really set the scene.
But all I could muster on the spot in terms of literary conversation was Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. It was the summer before my freshman year of high school and I’d just moved (read: had no friends). I was on one of my many self-improvement rampages involving lots of pushups, the New York Times Crossword Puzzle and a list of timeless classics. The list quickly shrunk down to just the one book when I saw its chunky girth.
I turned the pages slowly, reading each exhaustive detail about Francie Nolan’s neighborhood. And on the last page when Francie notices a young girl sitting on the fire escape, watching her get ready to go out, my heart trembled. As it was the same way she used to watch the older girls when she was little at the beginning of the book. She whispers, “Good-bye Francie” before shutting the window. Oh, the feels.
My latest read was Sarah Strohmeyer’s The Cinderella Pact, which I’d only picked up because it had a review on the cover from Meg Cabot, likening it to “opening a box of chocolates.” I just started a copy of Sophie Kinsella’s latest, My Not So Perfect Life, and have Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? on the nightstand waiting for me. Also, I’ve been dying to get my hands on Leandra Medine’s Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls., but I didn’t think Kelsey could relate.
It was right about then, immersed in my thoughts on how I could make a substantial living guessing the ending of chick lit based on the first 10 pages, that I realized it might be time to, as my high school counselor would say, broaden my horizons.
So I joined a book club. But like, a low-key book club where no one cares if you didn’t finish the book. And everyone’s really just there for the sangria.
Which is where I came face to face with Herman Koch’s The Dinner. I hungrily (you’re welcome) devoured the read, enjoying the torturous detail that accompanied it. Well, enjoyed it during the appetizer that is. The book is separated into courses from aperitif to digestif, as it literally takes place over the length of a dinner. Which was cute at first until it started getting a little bit Carrie. But like confusing, repetitive Carrie, with less period talk.
And although I read every sentence of that book, I walked away wondering what the fuck it was actually about, and just what exactly had gone down. I got major wafts of an underlying commentary on society, I just couldn’t put my finger on what the message actually was. And as a former devout AP English student, I damn well know my subtext.
The book mystified me as it had come highly recommended—the woman who picked it for the book club had just finished reading it, but loved it so much she wanted to read it again. I’ll be sitting far away from her at the next meeting, based solely on the following passage:
THIS IS WHY I DON’T READ OUTSIDE OF MY GENRE!!! THERE ARE NO MUSHY BLOODY PARTS OF FACES IN PRINCESS DIARIES!!!
I thought book clubs were supposed to be full of cat ladies and Anne of Green Gables. I give it at least half a dozen romantic fictions (and a handful of stiff G&Ts) to get me back to a shadow of my pre-book-club-traumatized former self.