Dear Amy:

What is it with these neighborhood book clubs? Do they discuss the book they were supposed to read? No, they talk about their neighbors.

I live in a small neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia. A "book club" was formed just after the neighborhood was established. At first the members kept their club a secret. I didn't have a problem with not being included, even though I was told point-blank by one of the participants that I would not be asked to join. Then I found out that all they do is discuss the "business" of the neighborhood. They talk about who is getting a divorce, who will be next to get a divorce, which children are having problems in school, who has money problems, and who is doing what to their house.

I know all of this because one individual in the club is sick of it and would like to drop out. She won't drop out, however, because she is afraid that all they will do is talk about her and her family.

The big problem arises when their children overhear these conversations and go around the neighborhood telling the other children what they heard: "Your parents are getting a divorce; you're having problems reading in school."

My own children have come home with stories they were told about what was said when their friend's mom hosted the book club.

I am sure that the individual who was discussed would be very upset to hear what was said about her and her husband.

I recently learned that one of our neighbors moved away because she couldn't stand these women and their gossip anymore.

Amy, don't these women ever grow up? They obviously have too much time on their hands. I thought that cliques ended with high school.

What can be done to shut them up and tell them to mind their own business and get a life of their own?

Disgruntled Neighbor

I am as appalled as you are by toxic gossip.

However, I can't help but notice that your letter is full of gossip and hearsay. You don't actually know firsthand what goes on at this book group.

You can't control what other people choose to do with their free time. If your neighbors there on Wisteria Lane want to get together, drink wine and not discuss "The Kite Runner," then that is their business. Of course grown-ups form cliques, just as kids do. The best way to avoid toxic cliques (in high school and adulthood) is to live a fulfilling life outside of any one group and to enjoy the company of people with inclusive values.

The only thing you actually can control is what goes on in your own home. In my home, we have a "no gossip" rule. If your children come home with neighborhood gossip, then you should say to them, "I really don't like gossip because it's mostly untrue and it's just about hurting someone's feelings. If something happens at home or on the street that you guys really need to know about, you'll hear it from me, and not the other kids at school."

If this group is so powerful that a member is afraid of the consequences if she leaves, that says more about her than about the group. It doesn't matter if Carmela Soprano is serving up the Chablis -- when nobody rejects this behavior, it will continue.

Dear Amy:

Thank you for your answer to "50/50," about splitting the check at dinner.

I am a non-drinker and I can't tell you how many times drinkers expect me to pay for their drinks. They actually get huffy when, after one time, I ask for a separate check the next time.

Also, I don't eat meat, making my dinners far cheaper than theirs.


Reader replies on this topic have been mixed, so far. I'll run more responses in future columns.

Write to Amy Dickinson at or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

(c)2005 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.