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Family Book Club: The Call of the Wild

or, "The Wildest Book Club I've Ever Been To"

{Originally written April 2020}

Dogs pulling sled through snowy hillside.

I’ve just attended the wildest book club ever. I’ve been to a lot of book clubs in my days, but this is the first one I’ve been at where attendees roll around on the floor laughing and tear apart a cardboard box to drag one another around.

That’s right: Forced Family Book Club.

In order to let everyone get used to the technology during lockdown, the school district has had a pretty slow start for daily assignments for the boys. So I’ve been supplementing with additional work (I call it "faux-schooling."). I assigned a chapter of The Call of the Wild each day for the boys (and myself, since I’d never read it).

The Call of the Wild, Jack London's 1903 novella about Buck, a dog who is stolen from his home and sold into service as a sled dog in Alaska during the Gold Rush. The novella is told from Buck's point of view and chronicles the St. Bernard/Shepherd mix's slow shift away from domesticity toward the primitive roots of his ancestors. (A similar shift from domesticity to primal activity occurs during our family's book club, as you'll soon see.)

I declared--randomly, meaninglessly--that book club would meet at 7pm on Sunday evening. In order to generate some excitement about the meeting, I told them that book clubs traditionally include some kind of food, often thematic to the book (this technique is often used to also entice adults to attend book club, amiright?). Since I wasn’t interested in making the only food referred to in the book (fish) I decided to make chocolate mousse, in honor of the scene where Buck kills a moose (oops, sorry, spoiler).

At 7:00 on Sunday, they joined me in the living room, and though we’d just been sitting at the dinner table together 20 minutes before, I hugged them all as if I hadn’t seen them in a month.

“Normally at a book club, the hostess greets people and you visit for a while first,” I explained as I hugged them, since they were obviously confused. “Hello!” I said dramatically. “It’s so good to see you! How are the kids?”

“I am the kids!” the youngest, 9, said.

“How was your day?” I asked the middle, 10.

“Same as yours,” he replied.

“Well, I’m so glad you could all make it tonight.” I continued in my hostess role.

The middle said, “I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere else.”

True story.

Our discussion was brief, but then, so was the book. We talked about what we had expected the book to be about–none of us had guessed right–and what surprised us.

The Littles and I preferred the earlier chapters, when Buck was proving himself on the trail, while my oldest, 14, found those chapters a bit too predictable, and preferred the last chapter, which he found more exciting.

“I don’t know,” I said, “I liked Buck the Lead Dog better than Buck the Killer. But I guess I’m just a softie.”

(Honestly, I was just grateful the dog didn’t die at the end. About three days into reading, I panicked: the dog always dies in the end of books! What had I done?! On the last day of reading, when they had read the chapter before I did, I asked, nervously: “So was it a happy or a sad ending?” And they said both, but no one was crying, so I took that as a good sign.)

During our discussion, the boys scoffed at the concept of collective memory, that humans and animals carry the memories of their ancestors with them. To prove his point, the oldest said, “I have no memories of Grammy’s childhood.”

When I asked, “How did you picture Buck to look?” and the youngest shouted, “A mutt!”, the middle, for some reason, found this hilarious, and fell to the floor laughing.

When we were done discussing, the boys were eager to move onto “Activities,” such as a treasure hunt for something gold in the house and—most exciting—turning a cardboard box into a sled and mushing around the house.

Even the 14-year-old got involved a little. One boy got on all fours in front of the box, with a fleece blanket pulled around his shoulders. On the other end of the blanket was another brother, inside an Amazon box. “Gee! Haw! Mush!” he shouted, and the other pulled as hard as he could. When the living room carpet was deemed too frictional, they moved out to the ceramic tiles of the entryway, and met more success.

My husband came downstairs just as they started dragging each other around and asked how it went. “Well, this is most unusual book club I’ve ever been to.”

From the ground, tied up by a blanket and pulling his big brother behind him, the youngest replied, “Yeah, Mom’s like, ‘Tradition, tradition, tradition.’”

If there's anything this book club was not, it's traditional, with the primal state of young boys awakened.


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