Battle of the Books Anxiety

I run a book club at the local middle school. It’s called Battle of the Books. The idea is not mine. My daughter first joined this type of book club at a school she went to a few years ago.

When she changed schools and we discovered that they didn’t have a book club, I saw an opening and went for it.

I do this all the time.

And then I freeze.

My anxiety kicks in. The mean voice in my head starts telling me stories about how this will never work and how I’m not knowledgeable enough about [insert topic here] to run [name of club, event, campaign, etc.], or that because I’m not a professional whatever, no one will listen to me and every meeting/event will be a chaotic disaster.

But, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Sometimes I think I speak up and offer to be of service where I see a need just to try to drown out the mean voice in my head; just to prove it wrong—I’m not sure how well it’s working.

So, I’ve been running Battle of the Books for two years now. We’ve had some chaotic meetings with everyone talking at once and no one listening to me trying to get them to take turns. And we’ve had some great meetings where we’ve gotten deep into the stories we’re reading, with great conversations. It’s so fantastically obvious that the books we’re reading have resonated with these kids.

But I still get anxious.

It’s a week before Christmas, so we had our holiday party. I brought treats to snack on while we talked about the books and battled it out for bragging rights over who knew the most details from the stories.

Probably because there was a table laden with treats and drinks where we meet in the library and probably because we were all eating and laughing and having a jolly time, we attracted two new students who wanted to join the book club. Of course I said yes, because the more the merrier. I so love talking to middle school kids about books. They have such a different perspective. They’re gritty and free at this age, opinionated and anti-authority. They are looking for ways to differentiate themselves from their families and they are figuring out who their tribes are and who they are. And all of this brings these neat conversations out when they see themselves reflected in the books we read.

So I let the new kids join, but my own middle school anxiety reared its head and froze me. I couldn’t ask them for their names. I couldn’t tell them to grab a book from the list of titles and sign it out and I was barely able to squeak out the rules of the Battle round and the Lightning round to them so that they could follow along even though they hadn’t read any books yet. And I’m the adult. They looked nervous when they asked if they could join.

What gives? I’m about 30 years older than all of the students in the club. So, authority by age and maturity? Check. They are almost all avid readers like me, so we’ve read the same books. Check. I’m not an outsider running a club I know nothing about. Check. The new students asked me if they could join. I was not recruiting them. Check. So what was I afraid of?

Well, the kids looked cool. That is, they had all the outward appearance of being in the “in” crowd. They had name brand clothes, the latest hair styles and tech, and they weren’t friends with the other kids who more than enthusiastically signed up on the first day the club was announced (which makes me think the original group is like me and maybe a little bit book nerdy).

My pre-teen self immediately took over and told me I had to play it cool, which always makes me do and say dumb things that are definitely not cool.

But of course, it all went fine. The librarian stepped in and got the kids’ names and set them up with books from our reading list. The new kids joined the conversation even though they hadn’t read the books yet. And I showed my anxiety once again that it really has no place in these situations. I don’t have anything real to be afraid of. I’m doing what I love with a great group of kids who also love that I do this for them.


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