Tuesday, December 18, 2012


In September, I may have created a small political incident in my book club.

I've been trying to get a book club to read Ivanhoe for years. I was never successful in Raleigh, but I had higher hopes for this one. 

After a routine vote to select the next half-year’s titles, our co-ordinator, Tressa, sent out an email saying we had a last-place tie between Ivanhoe and Les Miserables, and she encouraged us “since it IS an election year, feel free to CC the group to stump for your favorite if you think it will swing the vote. This could be fun!”

First, I pointed out that Ivanhoe contained “knights, castles, adventure, historical fiction, Robin Hood, and a tiny amount of social commentary. What's not to love?” Then I asked, “Can we stoop to low chicanery, like bribes? If Ivanhoe wins, I'll...do something drastic. Make a castle cake with little Papo figures besieging it? How does that sound? Sing and tap dance and allow you to post the video on youtube? I am willing to pander to the electorate, provided y'all tell me what it is you want. I draw the line at running up the deficit, though. A girl must have some standards.”

Then I went a little crazy:

I want to go on record as saying that I, personally, have nothing against Les Miserables and even voted for it in the preliminary rounds. A 529 organization wholly disassociated with my campaign, however, has this to say about your choices for the coming fall:

"Les Miserables. The name says it all. A sleazy French novel about corruption and suffering. Victor Hugo portrays thieves and prostitutes as sympathetic characters. Is this the kind of book you want corrupting our morals?

"Ivanhoe stands for virtue. One leading but unattributed newspaper editorial calls Ivanhoe "A moral parable."

"Besides, do you really want to read a 1,500 page novel? At 500 pages, Ivanhoe is smart without being obnoxious. Adventurous without being preachy.

"Let's get back to our Anglo-Saxon roots. Ivanhoe was produced and published in English, helping to keep English-speaking editors and typesetters employed here at home.

"Ivanhoe is about the French conquest of England and the English language. It's bad enough we now derive almost half our vocabulary from French roots; do we need to read books composed completely in that foreign frippery?

"Call Victor Hugo and tell him to take his packet of pretentiousness back to Paris.

"The choice is clear. Ivanhoe. Good for our book club. Good for America.”

--Paid for by The Council to Protect English Independence and Morals.

It worked! Lots of people “flipped” on the issue. My next email ran thusly:

Haha! Negative campaigns really do work!

[Gail does a happy dance. Given that she's trying to do disco to the tune of "Greensleeves," it looks ridiculous. Ah well, you missed your chance to demand youtube rights. Tee hee.]

I'm off to research twelfth-century Norman castles. May I request that we hold the meeting at my home, since even the most over-engineered edifice might crumble in transport? (My rule for a lego castle is that it should be able to withstand moderate stress tests, like abuse by a toddler. My rule for cake castles is don't perform stress tests.)

I'd also be happy to lead the discussion, carefully including points about Anglo-Saxon stock vocabulary and Rebecca's moral choices.

Now that Ivanhoe is the declared victor of this historic election, I can afford to be gracious. I'd like to reach a hand of friendly bipartisanship across the aisle--well, chunnel--and invite Les Miserables to participate in the process. Perhaps I could offer it a cabinet position. Something suitably "socialist," like Secretary of HUD. (Or its British equivalent.)

Nah. I'll just promise to vote for it next time.

Then, because of the surprising number of people I convinced, I felt compelled to issue a small warning:

Oh dear. Now I'm worried about an over-hyped roll-out leading to disappointed reviews.

Perhaps I should publish a disclaimed in small print:

Ivanhoe is not for everyone. Ask your doctor if it is right for you. Reading this novel will not help you to master Middle English. Possible side effects include monomania and the commission of creative anachronisms. Only trained athletes should attempt jousts. A very small percentage of adolescent girls may attempt to jump out of a window after reading this book.

After all that, only three people came, and one of them hadn't read it. :(  But they all agreed the cake was cute.


Castle cake! Unfinished, but we'll just pretend it was undergoing renovations. It should have a maiden in one tower and a fire in another....if it was fated to burn, there was no point in painting the turrets or widening the moat, right? I ran out of time for some features, and I forgot the "kit kat" bar battlements.

My plan now is to wait five years and then re-besiege the group with plaintive requests that at least six people read and discuss it.

As a plus, Sam wandered in and saw the picture on my screen. "That's a castle!" he said, and added "Mommy made da castle." And then, when I minimized the screen, he insisted I bring it back.

I have trained him well.

No comments: