Fans of Jason Mulgrew's Everything is Wrong with Me (book and blog) know that everything really is wrong with him. The product of a raucous, not-just-semi-but-fully-dysfunctional Philadelphia family, Jason has seen it all—from Little League games of unspeakable horror to citywide parades ending in stab wounds; from hard-partying longshoremen fathers to feathered-hair, no-nonsense, kindhearted mothers; and from conscience-crippling Catholic dogmas to the equally confounding religion of women. But until he'd published a book, he hadn't experienced the societal norm we know as the book club meeting, not as a member, and certainly not as the guest of honor. Read on for his hilarious guest post about his first foray into the book club world, and how our customs lured him in further. Dare you not to laugh out loud.
I had never been to a book club before my book came out. Is that bad? To be fair, I don’t know many guys in their late 20’s/early 30’s who prefer canned domestic beer and AC/DC over coffee and Gabriel García Márquez and who are more likely to name the two starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl XXXV than two non-Hamlet characters in “Hamlet” that are in book clubs. Though I can probably nail the Hamlet question (I did play Laertes in a seventh grade production of the play, a performance called “stunning” by the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Gazette), this is me. And these are the people I roll with.
It’s not that my friends and I are not smart. One of us is a doctor, so that’s pretty impressive. And it’s not like we don’t like to read, either. I read a ton, and particularly am an expert on the works of Robert Ressler and John Douglas, two former FBI agents who have written extensively about criminal profiling and serial killers. So that’s good. And a look at my friends’ Facebook pages finds that, yes, many of them have gone so far as to fill out the “Books” section (though three of them list Motley Crue’s THE DIRT as their favorite book).
But for whatever the reason, book clubs were an enigma to me. And then, my book came out.
On or around the day of my book’s release, my friend Erin sent me an IM, asking me if I would sit in on her book club if they read my book. Sure, I said. Anything to help get the word out and sell a few more copies (and I mean anything – wink wink). But because I was unfamiliar with book clubs, I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, do we just sit around and discuss the book? Would people ask me questions? What if it was awkward and the discussion slow-moving? What if someone said, “You know, I thought it sucked?” What if this was all a big ruse that Erin had created just to get me to an unfamiliar location to stab me? (This one was a big concern, actually.) And at any rate, my understanding was that my book was not particularly book club-ish; I always thought that book clubs read heavier books, like that Afghanistan kite book or the one about the woman who gets divorced and then travels a lot or whatever Oprah tells them to read. Was my memoir, “a touching and hilarious story of a precocious young boy growing up amidst the chaos of his Irish Catholic family in South Philadelphia in the late 70’s and 80’s” (-Jason Mulgrew), really book club-worthy?
So in preparation for the book club, I did everything I could to ready myself. This included, among other things (telling multiple people where I’d be, picking out a very thick shirt, doing push-ups to strengthen myself in order to fend off a possible attack, etc), creating a list of questions and discussion topics for my book. I figured this was the least I could do, and would help move the discussion along if it happened to drag. Also, right before I showed up, I had a couple of drinks at a nearby bar. That helped. A lot, actually.
And then it was show time. And as soon as I walked into Erin’s apartment, I knew everything would be just fine. I was seated on a couch, a glass of wine was placed in my hand, and then we started chatting. There were questions about the stories in the book, questions about the style of the writing, questions about why and how I wrote the book, questions about the publishing process, questions about the subjects in the book and what they’re doing now – questions, questions, questions. Though I didn’t need to, I then passed around my questionnaire, which we used as a springboard for more discussion. Some of the topics we touched upon:
- Why is it that I was the first born, but my younger brother Dennis was named after my father? Please be brutally honest in your assessment.
- What is the tenth word on page 143? No looking, please.
- Early in his career, Elvis Costello said that he wrote all his songs for two reasons: guilt and revenge. Why do you think I wrote this book?
And I was loving it. We were laughing and chatting and laughing, and maybe chatting some more. It was, by all accounts, a resounding success – book clubs and me, it was love at first sight.
Since that night, I’ve sat in on probably eight or nine book clubs, both here in NYC and in LA when I’ve been out there, either those of friends’ or of friends of friends’. And somewhere between book clubs four and five (or thereabouts), it occurred to me that I may have found my life’s calling: to sit around with a group of women and homosexual men while drinking wine and eating dip and discussing all things me.
And so I present this offer: if you live in an easily-accessible part of the NYC area (read: somewhere I can get to without a car or a gazillion subway transfers and does not require me to get on a boat) and your book club reads my book, I will sit in on your discussion. We will talk, you can ask questions, I will sign books, we will have fun. I have only one rule, which is no stabbing (of me). In return, I will not steal anything from your apartment – but if the club meets at a bar, I can’t promise that I won’t steal anything from the bar (sorry).
An offer that you can’t (but probably should) refuse, to be sure. But don’t worry, you’re in a good hands. I’m book club regular.