How many book clubs have you been in? C’mon, I could have asked if you’ve been in a book club, but you’re reading this blog. The jig is up. You’re a book club person, am I right? Book clubs are nerd fests, which is why I love them. As a librarian, I’m the ultimate nerd (pushes glasses up on nose). I’m someone who would probably start a book club, which I may or may not have done in the past. That book club might have ended because I had a second child and gave in to the fact that as a working mom with two small children, I was useless after 7:00 pm.
Flash forward three years, and guess what? I joined a book club! Shocking, I know.
At our first (and thus far only) book club meeting, I found myself feeling a bit of pressure. Lady librarian better have some cool recommendations on hand. Don’t worry, I have an excuse why I came to the first meeting without even a cheese plate. As a school librarian, I needed to be ready to recommend books to kids. As a writer of young adult fiction, I wanted to read comp titles. Basically, I have spent six years exclusively reading children’s and young adult novels (with a few exceptions). Therefore, the recommendation well was pretty dry.
As another book club member was fumbling to find a list she had on her phone, I finally came up with a possible title. I’d read an interview with a writer on Cup of Jo. The interview was about health and beauty, I’ll admit, but I later saw the writer’s new book in my beloved local bookstore and read the jacket. It piqued my interest because the setting was Brooklyn and the story sounded modern and humorous. When I suggested it to the clubbers, they jumped on it. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, sounds great! Gulp. I hoped I hadn’t led them astray.
Emma Straub says she didn’t want to write yet another book set in Brooklyn — and then she hit on Ditmas Park.
Then a summer storm struck and a tree fell on my minivan. Yes, I’m a librarian who drives a minivan. Don’t be so judgey. The tree has nothing to do with this story, but it was a pretty exciting end to a book club meeting. I tried not to take it as an omen.
Modern Lovers is a book about growing old and growing up. Two middle-aged couples living in gentrified Brooklyn–Andrew & Elizabeth and Zoe & Jane–are contending with marital discord and existential questions. Andrew, Zoe and Elizabeth were in a modestly successful band in college, but have all gone on to have traditional careers (or, in Andrew’s case, to live off a trust fund). Their marginally talented bandmate, *Lydia, went on to become famous for singing a feminist anthem that was written by Elizabeth. Lydia was addicted to drugs and died at age twenty-seven, and now Hollywood wants to make a biopic about her life. Andrew, Zoe and Elizabeth must decide if they will sign over rights to their famous song. Feelings resurface around their connection to Lydia and their unfulfilled musical careers. The couples are also dealing with typical issues in marriages entering a third decade: waning sex lives, looming empty nests and mid-life regrets.
As the adults flounder, their teenaged children are consumed with the anxieties and passions that accompany coming of age. Harry, son of Andrew and Elizabeth, is an almost freakishly “good kid” who is adored in part because he has never been a nuisance or a concern. Ruby, daughter of Jane and Zoe, is quite the opposite. Straub does an excellent job of depicting Ruby as both spoiled and self-aware. She is a brat sometimes, but she knows it, and has some cause for her resentments. She also displays a strong ownership of her sexuality and her boundaries, even when she is taking risks. As a young adult fiction fan, I appreciated that Ruby is allowed to enjoy and initiate intimate moments with her partners. What I’m trying to say in PG terms is that teenage girls have hormones, too. Thank you, Ms. Straub, for acknowledging that without judgment. And, as the author points out, sometimes teenagers make out in school playgrounds because there’s nowhere else for them to be alone. It’s not all vampires and mossy forest floors out there.
I’m curious if my love of Brooklyn weighed into how much I enjoyed the book. We’ll have to see what the other clubbers have to say. I was kind of ready to get away from hipsters when I left Brooklyn in 2002, but it’s fun to visit, both in real life and novels. I recommend reading this book with a nice cup of kombucha.
I’d love to hear what you and your book club are reading. Nerds, unite!
Photo via Visual Hunt
*I tried to picture someone comparable to Lydia in real life and failed so if you thought of someone, please let me know in the comments.