> A friend of mine started a book club for mums, which was fine until one member invited all her pals. Most of them don’t read the book, dismiss it in a sentence, then sit there for long, awkward silences. (We aren’t insisting on a genre nobody likes; this happens with many different kinds of books.) As a teacher, my inclination is to take charge. Is this wrong? I’ve been resisting the urge to whip out a white board and markers while caroling, “Let’s brainstorm!” That or cut and run with my original friend. Help!
J.F. / Edinburgh, Scotland
I like flip boards and marker pens, too, so let’s pretend we have a board in front of us. First, list all the things you hope to get out of your book club. A chance to meet new people? Deepen existing friendships? Discover books you wouldn’t read on your own? Revisit the classics of your youth? What was the goal in having the group choose many different kinds of books, instead of sticking to a particular topic or genre? What was the goal in having only mothers? Step back and study the page.
Now that you know what you want from a book group, what are the chances you can whip the current incarnation into shape? A sluggish group can sometimes be revitalized by one determined soul. As a teacher, I’m sure you have ideas for how to accomplish this.
If you realize there is an unbridgeable gulf between your flip-board vision and the book clubbers grimly staring one another down over white wine and honey cashews, plan a secession. Again, you can figure out the details – but you now have a clear idea of what you want a book group to be, so you’d reboot with a smaller group for those reasons, not because there is anything wrong, anything at all, with the way things are now. (“This is great, but the four of us have really been wanting to read the complete plays of Shakespeare out loud. We’re starting with Titus Andronicus, if anyone wants to sit in on the first reading! And keep us on the list for your next meeting – we might stop by just for some cashew chat, if that’s OK!”)
Caveat: This sort of boosterish rhetoric would enable you and your friends to get out of the club while saving face here in the States. You may need to tweak the formula a bit for Scottish tastes.
> My neurological makeup pretty much ensures that there will be incidents where despite the data I’ve collected, my underactive mirror neurons fail to detect some expression in people’s faces and voices, so that I misinterpret what they are saying or feeling and make a faux pas. Is there a polite way to explain this situation once I realize what has happened?
A.S. / Boston
Everyone, even the most neurotypical among us, makes faux pas. You are well ahead of the social curve in two ways: 1) You know you have the potential to make social gaffes, and 2) you care. I honestly don’t think you have much to worry about. You can give people who know you well – friends and close co-workers – the detailed lowdown on your neurons, if you wish. This will help them adapt their style of communication to your style of interpretation and free them up to correct you quickly when you get it wrong. They can also buffer you in larger social or work group interactions.
A minor mix-up with a casual acquaintance doesn’t require an explanation, just an apology. If you fear you’ve said something really odd or hurtful, stop the conversation and tell the other person: “I’m sorry, my brain doesn’t always absorb information from people the way it should. Can we go back a minute?” – and then ask for clarification, or explain what you meant to say.
Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a Cambridge-based writer with a PhD in psychology.
GOT A QUESTION OF COMMENT? Write to email@example.com.
BLOG Read more of Miss Conduct’s wit and wisdom at http://www.boston.com/missconduct.
CHAT Get advice live this Wednesday, noon to 1 p.m., at http://www.boston.com.