On Sunday morning, while reading The Tennessean and having a pleasant time of it, I was reminded of one of those odd articulations between “gender” and “activity” that frustrates the dickens out of me. There, in the Living section, was a rather lengthy article about book clubs and what amazing communities they help women build. Could someone please explain why “book clubs” have become so closely articulated to women and why it’s so difficult to break this articulation?
A few months ago, my Bonnie and I were at one of our local bars, having a drink when we ran into a couple we know. Bonnie and her female counterpart engaged in a conversation about the next book their club was reading. A light bulb goes off, so I turn to her husband, a guy I’ve gotten to know through conversations over beer now and again, and I say, “Why don’t we start a book club for men in the neighborhood?” I swear: the guy’s face turned white, and he acted as if I had asked him on a date.
Something is amiss when you ask a guy about reading books, and a moment of homosexual panic breaks out. And it’s not just this one guy. Regardless of how I approach the topic, men don’t simply act uninterested; they act as if there is something horribly amiss about the idea. Guys, we need book clubs; we need them now:
- We’re starting to fall behind: As many of you know, women are doing so much better than men in terms of college test scores and admissions that many schools are having to “lower” the standards for men simply to get the gender balance closer to 50-50. Perhaps we should consider that the peculiar panic that men have around the idea of book clubs is part of the overall problem.
- Think about the fabric of popular culture: The more often women choose books, the more often book publishers will publish books that appeal to women. If you want to see books that appeal to your tastes and sensibilities, you need to buy books that appeal to your taste and sensibilities.
- Come on . . . it’s not that hard. If you go to your local book store and look at the stuff most of these book clubs are reading, we’re not talking Ulysses. Hell, you can call it a book club as long as the reading comes in the form of a book.
- You get to name the club yourself. As a result, you can use the name to undermine whatever it is you fear about joining a book club. Call it the “He-Man Reader’s Club,” “The Angry Bulls Club,” “Ye Olde Powerful Men,” or whatever you prefer.
- You don’t even have to read the book: As far as I can tell, only about 25% of Bonnie’s group ever finish the book. Sometimes, I hear about book club members “renting” the moving rather than reading the book.
- Book clubs are often an excuse for the break out of drinking societies. Bonnie has hosted her book club before, so I know what I’m talking about. While she doesn’t allow me in the house when the book club meets, the detritus after the party tells the tale: dirty wine glasses, full glass recycling bin. Don’t tell me this is all about reading. And we don’t have to drink wine; the options are as wide as they are at your local tavern.
While I understand that the closer we get to the end of my list, the less likely we are to fulfill the concerns of the early part of my list, I’ll settle for the smallest steps at this point.
Remember, Books: They’re not just for women anymore.