Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Book Club Blues

Ever since a domineering new member joined this reader's beloved book club, the fun has gone out of it. How can she persuade the interloper to leave?

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I’ve been a member of a book club for a year now and as I’m a single mother and don’t drive, it’s been a godsend. But when one person dropped out to go abroad recently, a friend suggested someone she was at university with. She’s turned out to be completely wrong for our group. Even her friend says she had no idea she’d be like this. She lectures us, tells us not to stray from the point if we get on to other topics, and suggests books that none of us likes. This isn’t a trivial problem. One person’s already left because of her. How can we get rid of her?


Yours sincerely,


Virginia says...

Odd, isn’t it, how powerful just one person can be if we let them? Here is this one newcomer whom everybody loathes, and yet a whole group of you feel nervous about asking her to leave. Even though you vastly outnumber her, a mixture of fear and politeness obliges you to keep silent instead of collectively telling her to buzz off.

Kindness and politeness are qualities to be commended, but not when it comes to dictatorial behaviour. There must come a time when the discontented masses rise up and topple the tyrant.

I think you should meet with the sympathetic members of the group and discuss what to do. It could be that you decide to write her a letter – signed by you all – saying how much you have appreciated her company, but that you don’t think she fits into the structure as it now is. Say that you’re all far less earnest than she is, and that you feel she’d be happier in a group that was more interested in the intellectual side of things. You could say she’s obviously so clever and she makes some of you feel like complete airheads. Explain that you’re really in it as much for the socialising as the book criticism. She’ll be hurt – or angry. But she’ll know she’s not wanted.

Alternatively you could say that you’re not going to read books any more, but just meet for a chat every so often. You’re changing the whole outfit to a non-book club. Or a knitting club. Something she’d loathe. With any luck she’d stop coming. And once she’d stayed away enough times you could start reading books again. Or each time she suggested a book such as the unreadable Don Quixote, you could all shout her down and insist you’re dying to try Agatha Christie instead. (Though perhaps not her; she’s a great storyteller. Try something she’d be bound to disapprove of, such as Harold Robbins, Dan Brown or Jackie Collins.)

Or, of course, you could make a plan slowly to drift off, one by one, till the club fizzles out – and then start it up again after a few months without asking her back.

Whatever you do, your story’s a warning for other groups. In future, always vet new members first. They can come as occasional visitors, you can say, but don’t ask them to become members until you’re certain you like them and that they’re prepared to fit in with the status quo,  rather than wanting to stage a palace revolution.

Virginia Ironside’s new book is ‘No! I Don’t Need Reading Glasses!’ (Quercus £14.99)

Readers say…

Restart without her

Disband the group and then start up again without her. This strategy worked for me with a philosophy group. We arranged that only two members would turn up one week and then only one the week after. After that, I closed the group down with a letter to the offender using falling membership as the reason. We waited one month and started again.

This takes time and risks being discovered but in that event then the lady needs  the truth.

Name and address supplied

Listen to her points

I wonder why any of you would get together to discuss books at all if there’s only agreement on everything! It sounds to me as if the new member is trying to promote some kind of meaningful and interesting discussion. It seems that the rest of you would rather whine about it to each other, instead of critically evaluating your reasons with the new member.

Any book club I would want to be part of would almost certainly include some books I don’t “like”, but then I would also want to put my argument as to WHY, as well as hearing why someone else might disagree.

Isn’t that the whole point?

Dorothy Rogers

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’m dating a really lovely girl, but she expects me to pay for everything. If I don’t, she accuses me of being mean. All my previous girlfriends have been happy to share costs – some have even taken me to dinner or shows as a treat – but this one seems to expect the man to foot the bill everywhere.

She’s 25 but her attitudes are so old-fashioned. Her father, who works as a  builder, puts her on a pedestal and has never let her mother work. Am I being too optimistic in hoping she might change?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Alwyn to do?

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