NO! I DON’T WANT TO JOIN A BOOK CLUB

Diary of a 60th Year

Virginia Ironside

 Marie Sharp, a child of the 1960s, is entering her own 60s. Behind her is a life full of experiences: not just marriage, family, divorce, and work but also experimenting with drugs and having unprotected sex. In other words, Marie has lived. She has had adventures. She has been known to be reckless and irresponsible, at least by today’s standards. Now she’s old and wants to feel that way.

In No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club, Marie swears off all kinds of things that her friends and contemporaries are embracing: book clubs,

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 Marie Sharp, a child of the 1960s, is entering her own 60s. Behind her is a life full of experiences: not just marriage, family, divorce, and work but also experimenting with drugs and having unprotected sex. In other words, Marie has lived. She has had adventures. She has been known to be reckless and irresponsible, at least by today’s standards. Now she’s old and wants to feel that way.

In No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club, Marie swears off all kinds of things that her friends and contemporaries are embracing: book clubs, yes, but also learning new things like foreign languages and joining gyms. Activities that challenge the mind and body, activities that others like to brag about—these are not for Marie. Writing in the diary that forms the narrative of this novel, she exults in what lies ahead: time to take it easy, refrain from doing what anyone else tells her, relish the diminishing possibilities. Her friends may see her as a contrarian—especially the loyal Penny, who braves the dating scene and struggles with her own self-image crises—but Marie has always been her own person. However, she shocks everyone when she declares she is swearing off sexual and romantic relationships—in short, she is swearing off men. Forever. She doesn’t intend this declaration to be a public one, but of course word gets out.

Marie wants her life to be simple and manageable. She can handle her own hypochondria. She can handle redecorating her bedroom. She can even handle—nay, embrace!—grandmotherhood (that is, when she isn’t sick with worry over the baby’s falling prey to kidnappers or too-small socks). A man would not only confuse matters; he also wouldn’t fit in her new, smaller bed. But amid the simple pleasures Marie craves are real complications she cannot ignore. Some of those dearest to her may not be around to grow old along with her. She must realize that no matter what life one chooses, embraces, or is given, it has only one possible ending.

Still, maybe there are more possibilities ahead for her than she allows herself to dream—or to admit to her diary. Perhaps, even for Marie, this new stage in life won’t turn out quite according to her simple plan.

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  • Plume Books
  • Paperback
  • March 2008
  • 240 Pages
  • 9780452289239

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About Virginia Ironside

Virginia Ironside is a journalist, agony aunt, and author, divorced living in West London. She has one son and one grandson.

Praise

“This screamingly funny memoir is for your world-weary gal pals. And possibly yourself.” —USA TODAY

“This novel is more than a light romp. Marie shows great heart and wisdom as she experiences joys and sorrows.” —The Herald Sun

“I’m thinking of reading No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club once a year here on in to cheer myself up. If you’re over 50, you should read it, too.” —The Buffalo News

“… no doubt will be made into a movie (central casting, call Judi Dench).” —The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Discussion Questions

Marie talks about “longing to feel sixty.” Does she really want this—and what does feeling one’s age mean anyway?

In what ways does Marie defy popular notions of older people, especially older women? In what ways does she (wittingly or unwittingly) conform to them?

What role do Hughie and James play in Marie’s life? What does her relationship with them as a couple and with Hughie in particular give her that no one else does?

Why does Marie take pride in the achievement of reaching sixty but feel no urge to try to achieve anything new?

Marie is critical of the way many women her age appear asexual, yet she makes a big deal of swearing off men and sex for the rest of her life—leading an asexual lifestyle, as it were. Does she mean it? What’s behind her determination? Is giving up something she doesn’t have really a sacrifice or does it mean something else?

Marie’s and Penny’s hypochondria contrast poignantly with Hughie’s apparent denial. What do the way these characters face serious issues of health say about them?

We know what Marie thinks of other sixtysomethings’ efforts to try new things and otherwise attempt to make themselves feel (and look) young and attractive—Penny, for example. But what might Penny think of Marie’s attitude?

“How many other characters can I expect to be before I die?” wonders Marie. Earlier she has mentioned seeing her older self and her younger self as distinct from each other. Later, she and Hughie agree that people are made up of many “real selves” that are often in conflict with one another. How does this come through in the character of Marie? Does she surprise us (and herself)? Does she see other people as having multiple selves?

Hughie seems to face his end in a matter-of-fact way, including explaining to Marie how good it feels to be free of all the choices and pressures of really old age. How does this compare with Marie’s attitude about aging? Is she in denial herself?

How does the time in which Marie and her contemporaries were young adults (the reckless, tumultuous 1960s) affect the way they face getting older? Why is someone like Philippa’s sister, who speaks to Marie of “our age,” different?

In theory, Marie confides all to her diary, writing her most private thoughts with candor. But in practice, does she?

If Marie could be persuaded to join a book club, what kind of member would she be? How would she contribute? How would she get along with other members?