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Notes on a Successful Book Club

June 11, 2014 | by


Detail from the first-edition hardcover jacket of Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

Back when I worked in retail, a friend and I whiled away our breaks and slow days with what we called, unofficially, the Lurid Book Club. Admissions standards were straightforward: to be considered, a book had to be lurid. Accordingly, we read Flowers in the Attic, Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple, Peyton Place, Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children, and Escape, described by its publisher as “the dramatic first-person account of life inside an ultra-fundamentalist American religious sect, and one woman’s courageous flight to freedom with her eight children.” (We told a customer about the LBC and she contributed her copy of Anne Rice’s Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, which, besides being not at all what the book club was about, was tedious in the extreme.)

Unlike many book clubs, it was an unqualified success. It was impossible to not do the reading: we could not put these books down. But the social element was essential, too; the shared horror of the experience made it bearable. I can’t call it a guilty pleasure, because it wasn’t exactly pleasurable. I’m sure this plays into something dark in the human soul—or at least mine. But it was cathartic and educational. I highly recommend it.

If you should start your own Lurid Book Club, may I suggest the oeuvre of Judith Rossner? She’s best known for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, the 1975 novel (and subsequent film) that fictionalized the brutal murder of Roseann Quinn. This story—with its seedy singles-bar settings, its teacher-of-deaf-children-by-day, rough-sex-addict-by-night protagonist, and its violent denouement—is quite lurid enough. But that’s just for starters. Read More »