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OK, so memories are memories of a memory. Never mind. My original recollection of literary criticism has not faded much. Once in the last century, I was a junior in college and needed two upper level English courses because of having transferred from one university to another. Do you think all memories diminish? Not much this one.

Working at least forty hours a week waitressing at the best local eatery, torn down ten years later to make room for progress, I was still able to fit in six credits in six weeks during summer school. That was the summer I lost the boyfriend, and he found another. I was too busy to date. (See how well some recall works?)

But, I’m diverging again. Back to the subject. I’m reminded of this because of several tales — all to do with book clubs. My parents belonged to a couples’ book club which Dad loved. Mom didn’t. Dad loved to talk and could converse on most subjects. Mom not so much. Each month, Dad got to watch Mom not talking, and Mom got to hear Dad espousing.

They ended up in a retirement community with one of the couples from the book club. Both the men died soon after entering their posh last home; they may have worn themselves out evaluating books. Both women lived on into senior adulthood. Mom couldn’t walk by this lady’s door without mentioning how much she didn’t like book clubs. She enjoyed the people but was unhappy with her inability to carry on with literary criticism.

I’ve inherited her gene. I love book clubs. However, I seldom say anything. Who am I after all to criticize real literature? I’m carried into a different world with books; there are few things I like better than reading a good book. Oh, I can say what I liked or didn’t like about the subject matter, plot, character development, but I am unable to critique the author’s work in a meaningful way. I’m there for the story — nothing more, nothing less.

The (international) American Women’s Club’s book club in Brasilia (early 1990s) met monthly on our large patio. Brasilia’s cicadas make annual appearances and were in full shrieking voice during one of our meetings. Noisier than our 17-year bugs here in Virginia, they all seemed to congregate near the patio that morning. No one could hear anything but cicadas’ courtship calls and responses screeching for mates. A newly arrived European ambassador’s wife asked me to please turn them off. Impossible! We had to reconvene in the living room and shut all the windows and doors to make ourselves heard. All book clubs have seemed quiet and demure since then. Although I’ll admit I enjoyed the cacophony of cicadas’ sounds that morning.

One of my current book clubs is full of well educated, forty-somethings all of whom undoubtedly have advanced degrees in literary criticism. So well spoken, they share their perceptions and criticisms, and I can just sit back, relax and enjoy others’ magnificent insights. The books — if they hadn’t before — come alive with the re-telling. Another senior joy! I can hardly wait for the next meeting when the current one ends.

I just don’t like literary criticism. And, you thought this was going to be a sad tale?

Sandra Brian Lore

Sandra Brian Lore had a typical small-town and suburban life outside Chicago — until she served for 32 years in the Foreign Service.

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