The Help Desk: I did not sign up for a spoiler-free book club

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

My friends and I started a book club and we gave everyone a month to read our first pick. It was a short science fiction book, so this seemed like ample time. When we met, only two of us had read the whole book. Everyone else came because we had good snacks, and I guess they wanted to hang out or something. This led to a lot of shushing and talking around any topic that might spoil the ending.

I'm not a teacher. How do you get people to show up having done their homework?

Lily, Fairbanks, AK

Dear Lily,

It's unrealistic to expect everyone to read each book – I drop books that don't grip me because I believe that reading is a pleasure not a chore. I think more people would be readers if they didn't feel an educational obligation drilled in from youth to finish every book and be ready to take a quiz on it.

However, someone must set the tone for the book club and seeing as you have strong feelings about it, that someone should be you. if you want this to be a book-geared book club and not another social gathering, you need to make it clear that everyone is encouraged to participate but that conversation will be about the book of the month – endings and important plot points will be discussed in detail.

Have you ever met a brown recluse? They are the Cadillac of spiders: quiet, impeccable manners, and a low tolerance for bullshit punctuated by a venomous bite (which is oddly erotic when placed on the lips). I encourage you to lead your book club like a brown recluse – be polite but take no bullshit. If someone asks you to not spoil the ending, invite them to leave the room. And if someone shushes you, bite them on the lips until you taste blood.