DEAR MISS MANNERS: I have been part of a monthly book club for the past five years. We all get along well, but it has been a growing problem that some people do not regularly read the books. The personal chitchat at the beginning of each meeting seems to grow longer each month, and those who don't read the selections are quick to divert the group's attention to other topics. Sometimes we hardly discuss the book at all.
I don't want to be a disciplinarian, nor do I want book club to seem like homework, but I also don't want us to forget why we formed the group in the first place. What should I do?
GENTLE READER: Join another book club.
Miss Manners does not mean to disparage the one you are in or even to suggest that you leave it if you like the members. All book clubs have both discussion and social chatter. It is not as though reading, like playing softball, requires rounding up other people.
Different clubs have different mixtures of the two, ranging from a serious focus on books to the books being only an excuse to get together. And while one or two members who divert a discussion can be gently called to order, it sounds as if the others in your group are happy with the changed tone. Rather than hector people, you could ask for a re-evaluation of purpose, which would neither target individuals nor exclude the social aspect. Or you could join the chatter, bubbling over to them about the literary fun you are having in another book group.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband's aunt died recently from ovarian cancer, and her children are having a service for her this Saturday. My problem is that my nephew, who lives about a four-hour drive from us, is celebrating his 1st birthday this Saturday. Before the aunt died I had planned on taking my two sons (ages 9 and 11) up to my nephew's birthday party, where we would also see my Mom (my Dad died a year ago from lung cancer), two of my sisters and their family, and my brother, his wife and their birthday boy. As we are four hours from my Mom and brother and two hours from my sisters, we do not get the chance to see each other very often. In fact, we weren't able to spend Christmas with any of my family this year.
My husband's family lives near us and we see them often. I feel it is important to celebrate my nephew's 1st birthday with my boys and my family, while my husband can give our support and sympathy to his aunt's family. She was a wonderful person and was my favorite aunt on my husband's side of the family. We spent a few hours with her and her family over the Christmas holiday, and I really feel that she would want us to go to my nephew's 1st birthday. So, what do you think? Am I right or am I wrong? Thank you for your thoughts and answer.
GENTLE READER: You're welcome. You're wrong.
Miss Manners appreciates your desire to be with your family, and might even have been swayed by the idea of your husband's being with his family while you were with yours. But then you mentioned that the aunt was a favorite of yours and used that dreadful excuse that she would approve your failing to show her the respect of attending her funeral.
Why is it only after people die that they are known to believe that they do not want to be mourned?
Funerals take precedence over happier events, even important ones such as weddings. Your nephew will have other birthdays, and this is the final event you will have to attend for the aunt.