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July 09, 2015
The Real Issue
How to Make Friends without Joining a Book Club
by Cyndie Swindlehurst

Editor's note: Cyndie Swindlehurst is on leave this week. Here is a rerun column that may come in handy:


Each time I move into a new ward, I am thoughtfully invited to join the book group. After people find out I studied literature in graduate school and that I'm a former English teacher, I am often (again, thoughtfully) heavily recruited.

For reasons of my own, I have little to no interest in joining one of these groups. I need help finding a firm and polite way of saying no. People seem to expect an explanation. Advice?


Ah, book clubs. You must remember that they are not all the same. An open-invitation ward book club is one thing. But a private, invitation-only book club is quite another. Being invited to the former is a matter of course. Being invited to the latter is an overture of friendship based on the anticipation of similar tastes and the hope of stimulating conversation.

Trust me that these invitations have no connection to your education or work history. These thoughtful sisters seek friendship and connection, not literary instruction. They are responding to the interests exposed in your résumé, not to the résumé itself.

So the real question is, "How do I accept the invitation of friendship without accepting induction into a book club?"

Please consider a two-step response:

First, you must never give a reason for declining to join the book club. Whatever your reasons, if you reveal them to the person issuing the invitation, you will actually be telling her exactly what activity you consider to be more important than her book club, or why you don't think you and she would get along, or what amount of effort you are not willing to put forth to accept her invitation. Any explanation is bound to sound either prideful or lame.

Worse, she might feel obligated to try and "solve" your problem. Which will lead you to reject her solution.

Just the thought of this conversation is making me cringe.

So when you are invited to join a book club, just say no, thank you, but no more. Something like, "Oh, that sounds wonderful. Thank you. But I just can't right now."

Then, change the subject to something that expresses an interest in developing the friendship in other ways. If you know you and she have something in common (other than a love of literature, obviously), seize on that subject. For example, if you know she has children, act as if you had been meaning to ask her if they play sports or take music lessons. Then ask about soccer leagues or piano teachers. Or you could ask her advice about grocery stores or hair stylists or jogging trails or baby sitters. Ask what her calling is or who the Primary president is or when choir practice is.

Hopefully, your response will convey that although you truly can't come to her book club, you would love to get to know her in other ways.

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