The latest report from the Secret Book Club comes from a trusted staff member who actually witnessed the most recent meeting of Greenwood's only known clandestine literary sect. The staff member — who wishes to remain anonymous, so as not to incur the revenge of the Secret Book Club — found in the bookstore's public restroom a wadded up flyer announcing the time and meeting place of the club's most recent book discussion. To his surprise, it was to be held at Turnrow, after hours, a puzzlement in that the secret club had purposely excluded staff members from their ranks.
On the assigned day, the secret staff member arrived early for the meeting and hid in the upstairs utility closet. Through the return air vent he was able to observe unnoticed. He watched them arrive one by one, each wearing a mask and taking their seats in the cafe area without a word of conversation. "I thought I recognized one of them as P—," the staff member reported, P— being a former part-timer, who might have gotten his hands on a key at some point. "Funny, though, I don't remember P— being much of a reader."
The six members sat around a table piled high with Hostess cakes, snacking demurely until the meeting was called to order by a severe-looking fellow in a common black eye mask. The book was The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, a clever selection for a secret book club since it deals with a woman's quest to learn more about the secret society implicated in a mysterious inheritance she receives from a former lover.
The opinions of the novel were varied. One eager reader called it "the mother of all conspiracy novels," but when pressed for other conspiracy novels came up dry. Another person admired Pynchon's diction, referring to him as "a master of the comma" and had flagged several passages in which the punctuation had particularly impressed him.
The supposed leader said that his own creative writing had been compared to Pynchon by a college writing professor. "The opening section of Lot 49 actually reminded me of my first novel," he said, then admitted that he'd put Pynchon's book aside to reread his own undiscovered masterpiece, which he kept in a manila envelope in a bedside chest of drawers. "I kind of thought mine was better," he said.
The discussion became particularly heated when members tried to reconcile the ending and whether or not the protagonist had indeed stumbled upon a worldwide conspiracy, an elaborate practical joke or simply a figment of her own paranoia. Various clues and textual references were bandied about in escalating, passionate exchanges.
One young drawn-up woman, who'd said little while shuffling her feet nervously under the table, suddenly burst out, "I tried to read this book slow and careful, to catch all the things y'all are saying, but I couldn't always make sense of it. I just have too much going on in my life to read this carefully and understand everything!" She then stood up and fled the meeting near tears.
The meeting petered out near the end of a fairly inept discussion about the author himself, a famous recluse whose anonymity has fueled his reputation as a literary cult hero, between two members who bet to see who could track the author down and correspond with him via email first.
Our secret staff member, who was nearly discovered when one of the book clubbers mistook the utility closet for a bathroom, remained hidden throughout the entire meeting and felt privileged to witness such a rare event. He was especially impressed by the contentious selection process for the next book, by which members tried to stump each other to name the most obscure novels. The inevitable selection, chosen from a list that was chopped and drawn from an empty Hostess box, is another fine and mysterious choice, which, in the interest of protecting sales to Secret Book Club, we won't divulge. If you're genuinely intrigued and would like to read along, just give us a call and mention the secret password: Trystero!