Dec 24, 2007

Men at the Movies

Last night’s outing to see Into the Wild let us appreciate 1) the dinner we ate beforehand, and 2) the self-restraint that tempers our most anti-social impulses. Larry’s son, Eric, commented afterwards that he felt Chris McCandless “did it for others.” As I drove away I found myself in agreement with Eric, which is not how I felt after reading the book. Sean Penn’s film makes McCandless into more of a reactionary (against family) than a true soloist. So, Eric, take Garth's and John's advice and remember to love your father after you leave home!

The movie was nicely unsettling, if a little long at 2 1/2 hours. Peter felt the movie lagged in the middle as it hewed too closely to Krakauer's account. But John disagreed (easy for him with his large capacity bladder). We all seemed to like the Eddie Vedder soundtrack. Just the right haunting notes and aching melodies for a (non) survival story like this.

It’s too bad that two of our group showed up for beverages but skipped the main event. Jeff, at least, had proof that he was on a mission: his spreadsheet would have made Santa blush! But Roy’s protests were unpersuasive. His shopping story dissolved into sheer homophobia when he adamantly refused to be seen watching movies with other men.

But we reserve most of our opprobrium for Dan, who promised us free drinks but wouldn't join us out of a sense of obligation to his wife AND his in-laws! Dan, for the sake of half our species, we ask that you turn in your man card NOW!

The evening was a nice respite from the craziness of the holidays. Tom, we missed you but thanks again for the Krakauer recommendation.

Dec 22, 2007

I mean, really, do we care?

We received the following message from a woman who discovered our website and evidently felt the need to share. Unlike the Great Apes, whose perspective is similar to ours, this woman’s group (I’ve removed the name) has nothing in common with MBC except a relaxed attitude towards the rules of grammar and a purported distaste for chick lit. There's much to mine from this email, but it’s the guilelessness of the message that I find most interesting….

"Very much enjoyed your interview with info about your group, also your website. We have a library sponsored mixed gender book club, also try to avoid chick lit, but try to keep books a bit shorter. Also we order copies from state libraries, so books have to have been popular enough for enough copies as we have about 35 members, we have two meeting dates and members can pick when they want to attend. As we meet at the library during library hours our beverages are unfortunately limited to coffee and soda, sounds like a bit of lubrication is good for discussion!"

In case other women book clubbers feel a similar urge to correspond with us, remember that we're men with short attention spans. Unless you're funny, we're not likely to respond...and we might even make fun of you!

Dec 17, 2007

Tortilla Curtain has me reading and thinking

OK, I haven't yet finished this novel, but I'm captivated and anxious at the same time. The social (and economic) friction produced by our current immigration policies is painfully evoked in Tortilla Curtain. This 12-year old story could have been written about today's climate in Marin County.

As everyone and everything competes for our charity this time of year, I hope this book encourages our empathy for the guys shuffling around the street corners on Anderson Drive.

Dec 12, 2007

Dan IS the Man!

Last night Dan officially violated Rule One in the MBC Protocol Handbook, which reads: “Thou Shalt Not Discourage Thy Successor Host.” With his extensive German menu—replete with spatzle, sauerbraten, bratwurst (which tasted deliciously free of those tasteless meal byproducts acceptable in Europe), and “German” chocolate cake—and his revised home d├ęcor (Steinbeck’s Rocinante was a poor relation to Dan’s side-entry ManLand), Dan has set an impossible standard for all who follow. (Tom, start preparing!) Thanks to Dan’s zealousness, Rule Two has now been enacted and reads: “He Who Violates Rule One Shall Immediately Repeat as Host.”

We thank Dan for his hospitality and his generosity. Our visions of Rocinante will forever include two TV screens, a bar, and two sets of rocking loge seats. And we thank Dean for helping with the preparations after Dan speared his left orbital bone on a tomato post.

We also acknowledge the arrival of Armando, who admitted to knowing Tom’s wife more than 30 years ago, which is about when our other newbie, Jeff, was born. Welcome to you both! (And note to you both: at Man Book Club, we don’t mention other men’s wives during our meetings because for 2-3 hours each month, in the fullness of our fellowship, we pretend they don’t exist.)

The Book:
Our run around the table produced a wide variety of commentary on Travels With Charley. There were those who found it refreshing, prophetic, nostalgic, and generally enjoyable; there were also those (slightly in the majority) who felt a little cheated by Steinbeck. With his immense talents, he used this travelogue to share more rants than insights. He was preoccupied with the Bomb, trash, migration, uncommunicative Yankees, and his inability to read a map when entering cities of any size. (And, according to Roy, he was a complete misanthrope all the way to Chicago…at which point Roy put down the book. Way to give a Nobel Prize winner your attention, Roy!) But, as several of us noted, his final 30 pages set aside the ramblings of an older Steinbeck and eloquently attacked the racist tumult he encountered on his trip through the South. We rated this work a 6.1, a figure that would have been slightly lower had Stan not shamefacedly admitted to giving “any” book at least a 5. (And Stan had the nerve to criticize the integrity of our rating system!)

The Book Exchange:
Thanks to all who brought books to exchange and special thanks to Dan for tossing in a couple extras to fill the gaps. There were some wonderful titles on display and if it weren’t so chaotic we might have agreed with Garth’s suggestion that we simply read our newfound treasures and share the results in January. (Actually, on principle, we would never have agreed with Garth, but his suggestion was certainly novel…and, yes, pun intended.)

Next Up:
Tom proposed both of Krakauer’s “Into…” books, which unfortunately had been read by a solid majority of those present. He also proposed Of Mice and Men and The Kite Runner. The former was too much Steinbeck too soon, and the latter had also been read by many. When Tortilla Curtain was unwrapped by Larry, a consensus emerged that it was time for T.C. Boyle, the 1988 PEN/Faulkner winner and a favorite of book groups across the country ever since he stopped using his impossible middle name.

Dec 10, 2007

The Great Apes Weigh In

We received the following email from Jeff Potter, who was kind enough to share some background on his men-only book group, The Great Apes:

"Just found your website and wanted to let you know you're not alone . . . I've been part of an 8-11 member all guy (no chicks, no chick authors) book group, The Great Apes (picked the name after book #8 Tarzan!) in Ft Collins, CO since September 1994. We've read 130 plus books and celebrate each milestone with some special outing/event/tshirt/mug . . . .

"Highlight of my life outside of my family for sure. Your group therapy comment rings true with us all and the book group has probably saved each of us $1000 in shrink bills as we've had members become dads, granddads, married again, single again . . .our ages currently range from 63 or 64 down to 36. It's been "never a dull moment" for thirteen plus years.

"Favorite reads still remain TC Boyle's Water Music, Donleavy's The Ginger Man, Ambrose's Undaunted Courage, The Earth is Enough by Harry Middleton, all Cormac McCarthy but especially The Road (which we discussed at our annual January Breckenridge cabin outing), . . .next up Russo's Bridge of Sighs for Jan and Owen Wister's The Virginian for Feb. Even though we have a "no chick author" rule it's been broken twice: once when Dorothy Johnson's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence slipped through in a western short story collection, and Elizabeth Gilbert's The Last American Man picked on title alone . . .but the discussion was great.

"We're not organized enough to have a website, but our back and forth emails read about like your blog entries!"

Thanks, Jeff!

Dec 4, 2007

Travels with Charley

I hope you all enjoyed Steinbeck's exciting travels across the States.
As you are all aware Dec. 11th ,7pm, 181 San Marino.
Please enter through the side gate also known as "Dean's Gate" It is on the left hand side of the house, closest to Dean's driveway, hence the name. This will lead you into the Rocinante (the garage). Here we will enjoy libations of Applejack & Stein-lager/Beck s chasers. The food will be some nice hearty German fare. I'll be sure to allow my dogs to run around to keep us in the moment.

If anyone forgets a book for the exchange, I could donate a Penthouse forum or "The History of Salt".

Be sure to RSVP

Nov 26, 2007

Travels with Stan

just back from Mexico...another boring adventure. Need copy of new book now.

Nov 11, 2007

Extra Credit Reading

Hi Guys,

Following up on our last book, if anybody really liked the Civil War theme, I'd recommend that you read The March, by E.L. Doctorow, which gives the same treatment to Sherman's march on Atlanta that The Killer Angels gives to Gettysburg. The March won a great deal of major awards and is very well written. For anybody who wants to do some extra Thanksgiving-themed reading, I'd really recommend Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick. Its a great story of the Pilgrim's crossing and first 50 years in America. It also won a number of major awards. Its very readable. Finally, for anybody who wants to read something pretty funny, check out two new books: Not That you Asked by Steve Almond or The Braindead Microphone by George Saunders. Both are very funny, slightly polemical essays about things going on in politics and the authors' lives. They are two of the funnier books I've read in a while.


Nov 6, 2007

Verisimilitude, thy name is Larry

Like the general officers of the Union army, our performance improves with good field rations and modern killing technology. We had both at Larry’s tonight. With his cornbread and beef stew, combined with Roy’s homemade corn liquor and a functioning 1859 “repeater” revolver, we might have assaulted Peacock Gap had we not been afraid of the self-inflicted casualties. (Garth, save your rye whiskey for a Faulkner/Percy evening.)

We all enjoyed reading—and finishing (well, except Jack)—Shaara’s The Killer Angels, but some of us had reservations. Shaara brought us to Gettysburg and captured a moment in the Civil War that proved pivotal. The weapons and the tactics were nicely displayed, but the characters were hopelessly one-dimensional (Pickett=eager; Longstreet=inarticulate; Lee=painfully decisive; Chamberlain=inspiring; Jeb Stuart=MIA). Maybe that's the problem with fictionalizing real people while also staying true to history.

Peter captured my frustration when he likened it to a well-executed script or screenplay. It had the detail but not the richness of, say, Andersonville (another Civil War Pulitzer winner that none of us brought up but which I couldn’t get out of my head all the time I was reading The Killer Angels).

Nevertheless, Shaara brought the battle at Gettysburg (if not the participants) home to us and, gulp, induced Tom to research Civil War casualties (120,000 killed, plus another 60,000 dead from wounds and infections…did you make that up, Tom?). Doug’s details from the Ken Burns series and George’s observations from the film he helped produce gave us further context for this gruesome battle.

While we reflected back to Vietnam and forward to the Gulf War, it was notable that none of us has served in the military. (Roy never explained why he was ineligible for the draft, but clearly it had to do with his sobriety at Cornell, as opposed to Tom and Larry whose obvious intellect got them 2S deferments.)

Looking ahead, Dan proposed Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, Nick Hornby’s memoir Fever Pitch, and Kurlansky’s Cod: A Biography…, which I’m sure is a fascinating expose on cod fishing (yawn!). He also threw in A Confederacy of Dunces, but since we’re all out of college and can’t impress anyone by saying we’re reading it, that choice fell by the wayside. We selected Steinbeck, despite Doug’s warning that it may feel dated as a travel piece.

We also agreed to do a book exchange at the next meeting. Bring a book you really like (appropriately wrapped in brown paper, of course), and we’ll have fun dodging the obvious white elephant (aka, Dean’s Among the Thugs).

PS: I don't know why/how, but we did veer away to discuss whether men or women are better killers, the Bronze Bow controversy at DMS, drive-ins as "passion pits" (thanks, Tom--George and I will advise our marketing departments), horse meat in California and Gettysburg, etc. Don't hesitate to weigh in on what I've missed or purposely misrepresented.

Nov 4, 2007

RSVP to Larry

Well gentle(book)men times grows nigh for our next meeting. Thanks to Andrew for reminding everyone and thanks to those of you who have already responded.

The menu is not set yet, but in keeping with our unofficial food/book themes, something to keep the bookmen army on the march -- maybe a stew, cornbread, and pie. To keep us from wavering from our task, I will have some libations, but of course your own contributions to this cause are always welcome. In keeping with our Civil War theme, I will have some sipp'in Whiskey for our discussion and one reb among us may be distilling his own white light'in. One libation NOT provided by the host will be C'gars (ok, so technically not a libation, but well what do you expect from a commercial banker). You are welcome to BYO, BUT house rules require that they be smoked outside -- (and to that, torches will available for anyone who wants to "scout" out the newly renovated but not yet open golf course out the back gate).

Again, for those laggards and malingerers among us, RSVP to "serve your book club". See you all Tuesday.


Oct 30, 2007

November 6 Meeting Reminder

Just a reminder that we are meeting next Tuesday, Nov. 6 at 7:00 pm at Larry A's home. (Please vote BEFORE you head to Larry's, as he promises a hug to everyone with a ballot stub.)

As usual, bring your favorite liquid calories. Larry will provide supper, and no one should expect white tablecloths (that was a dig at Garth; Larry sets a fine table). Please rsvp to Larry by this weekend.

Our book, for those still in buying mode, is Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This book is extremely readable (meaning it's not too late, gentlemen). For those who need a refresher, or who can't finish and want to cheat, there's a bio of Shaara and lengthy discussion of the book in this summary.

Dan D. will bring us 2-3 proposed selections for our next meeting and has kindly agreed to host in December. Since he's still new at this, be gentle.

Oct 17, 2007

Great Gustation, Garth!

Yesterday Garth proved, with his keyboard AND his kitchen, that he will not be outdone. While his achievements were man(l)y, mine were not. It was my arm-twisting that yielded the literary watercress, as Garth noted in his gloves-off email last night. Mea culpa.

So, we thank Garth for nicely-paired cioppino and vino, not to mention the salad, bread and a mouth-watering dessert dusted with...yes, it's true fellows...HAND-GRATED BELGIAN CHOCOLATE!! All of this on a white tablecloth. (What I feared has come to pass: certain men--OK, me--will not be able to climb over the bar set by Peter, and re-set by Chris and Garth. Why couldn't you all have been happy with sandwiches!?)

For many of us, John Banville's The Sea produced an unlikeable narrator, a confusing chronology, and a frequent retreat to the dictionary. But the insights on memory and mortality and grief had many pushing through to the end. (Stan again joined us late because he was still reading the book at 7:00, and Jack--bless the newbie!--awakened at 5:00 a.m. so he could add a notch to his belt.) Even Terry, once our neighbor and now just another carpetbagger from LA, seemed intrigued by the material (or else delighted by a home-cooked meal--it was hard to tell with the cioppino all over his face).

For those who didn't or couldn't finish The Sea (John and Chris and Dan, you were awfully quiet), our next selection promises to draw us into and through a seminal moment in US history, the battle of Gettysburg. Thanks to Larry, we have selected The Killer Angels, the 1974 Pulitzer fiction winner by Michael Shaara. We meet on Nov 6 (Election night) at Larry's home. With only three weeks to the Election, get your copy soon.

Dan has promised to provide us with a few book suggestions at our next meeting. His threats notwithstanding, I am confident he will surprise and delight us with quality offerings that meet our selection criteria.

Oct 16, 2007

Garth's Counter

My apologies to Larry if he has taken even the slightest offense, since I harbored no intention to usurp his erudite selection, which I look forward to with baited breath (or is that the cioppino?). But yes, Andrew, you ARE a clever lad to discover a bit of the thread that binds them. Namely, these are books that either I have read or have been highly recommended because they possess the quality of being additional to our understanding of the world - both within and without. As opposed to those dreamy, nay dreary, selections which are more fit for a lady's tea with watercress on crustless white bread, thin in content, and bereft of intellectual nourishment.

I would also, in the interest of full disclosure, note that my arm is still recovering from that nasty twist you gave it at the end of the last meeting, Andrew, when in a state of mild inebriation (the conversation and dice game were simply intoxicating!), you forced from my lips, skillful lawyer that you are, a proposal for a title that seemed so reasonable that it must have been mine, but alas, credit must be paid where due, to the Bookman's Puppet Master cum President himself. Deny it I didn't, in the spirit of manly camaraderie, and thus for my penance have spent hours toiling at The Sea, struggling to keep awake, yet still inspired by my Piscene nature to ply you with the finest catch, freshest bread, bounty of our Northern California gardens, and wines that would make the Spectator envious, all in the name of a harmonious evening of generally lofty ideas and occasionally lowly humor.

Or maybe it was Chris's barbecue that summed it up. I'm looking for a read with some steak and hopefully a little sizzle along with it; something chewie, that invites one to wrestle with its challenging parts with the knowledge that the reward is in how it transforms one's look on life. Then again, maybe watercress is adequate...


Oct 10, 2007

Reminder October 16 Meeting

Just a reminder that we are meeting at Garth's home next Tuesday, October 16, at 7:00 pm. Garth will provide the comestibles; we will BYOB (or is that BOOB?).

Our book, The Sea by John Banville, is a fairly quick read, so if you haven't started you still have plenty of time. To give us some food for thought, I've emailed a short synopsis and a few "reading guide" questions.

Larry has offered to bring us a couple of book proposals for our next read. He promises they'll fit our expanded selection criteria. If there's a groundswell for non-fiction, then this is the time to reply so Larry gets the idea. Given the breadth of his reading (uncommon for a commercial banker, I'm told), he's capable of surprising us if we don't make our desires known.

Finally, I'm incredibly saddened by the news of Jim Bronstein's death. If you are/were a Davidson or SR soccer family, then you were connected to him and his family. Maybe, just maybe, some of the books we read as part of MBC will give us more insight and sensitivity to those who are suffering in our midst.

Sep 26, 2007

Conan disses MBC

This one strikes kinda close to home - from Conan O'Brien


Sep 13, 2007

Brownie Did A Heckuva Job!

The Evening's Acknowledgments:

We MUST give credit to Chris. He steered us off course with McManus' tawdry bit of murder/poker reportage. But, when all seemed hopeless for the MBC purists, Chris achieved redemption through food. On its way to my small colon, a certain filet mignon (paired with baked potato and grilled asparagus) made its delicious presence felt. (And that's all I'm saying about my colon for now.) Chris, thank you for an entree rare and rarely done. The food was exceeded only by your exceptional hospitality. You forced your children to leave home and you graciously attended to the tardy John T, when you could have taken our money with that greasy pack of cards hidden in your shirt pocket.

As for our conversation, it ran the gamut but its attention to Positively Fifth Street was mercifully short. I agree wholeheartedly with Peter that Mr. McManus was too narcissistic and self-indulgent to be enjoyed fully. However, there was clearly enough enjoyment to be had, as virtually everyone read this book. (Gentlemen, do you also watch reality TV in your spare time?) Thanks to Roy and Garth for their outside research into the subsequent fate of Sandy and Rick. The added detail was better than reading US Weekly.

Our descent into local politics was also brief, with a consensus that Carol Migden must first put a stop to our proliferating residential rehab units before she earns the right to buy our vote. But we'll support Chris and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation without hesitation.

New Book Selection Criteria:

Before and after our round of Liars Dice (Stan, do you want the game explained one more time??), we agreed to broaden our book selection criteria. We also agreed that one guy will preselect and propose 2 or 3 books for our selection at each meeting. Here are the selection criteria:
1. Under 500 pages
2. No chick lit
3. Book has won or been shortlisted for a major literary award, or was written by an author who has won a major award.
4. No restriction on date of publication.
5. Fiction or non-fiction.

Next Book and Meeting:

Garth has kindly agreed to host our next meeting on Tuesday, October 16 at 7:00 pm. To assist our decisionmaking, Garth spontaneously recommended Independence Day by Richard Ford and The Sea by John Banville. The group selected The Sea, which was the Booker Prize winner for 2005 and runs only 264 pages in my paperback edition.

See you in October.

Sep 5, 2007

Reminder September 11 Meeting

Just a reminder that we meet next Tuesday, Sept 11, at Chris' house. Our book is Positively Fifth Street by James McManus. Let us all remember, as we work our way thru Mr. McManus' insufferable, er, innumerable insights into the world of poker/murder/poker/murder (gosh, which theme is more exciting?), that we eagerly accepted Chris' book recommendation in reaction to the tedium of Oscar & Lucinda. So, no buyer's remorse.

Here are some discussion points for Sept 11:

1. Henceforth, should we abandon our book selection criteria in favor of a book list founded on "True Crime All the Time"?
2. Just how much did our poker skills improve upon reading this book (and, for extra credit, is this why we joined a book club?)
3. For those who were made miserable by having to read this it because of the book choice or the fact that they CAN'T play poker?

With these and other weighty issues up for discussion, I can't wait to return from Cleveland and see you fine men!

Jul 13, 2007

Wherein we thank Peter for his Emu burgers and look ahead to poker in September

Many thanks to Peter for a fine evening on Tuesday. The "Emu" burgers with tamarind glaze were very tasty (darling, we all want that recipe!), and the Australian Shiraz was more than drinkable. John, take note: guests need not eat from cans heated over an open flame to feel the muse within.

While the food and drink were above standard, it's a shame that our book fell short. Oscar & Lucinda will have to rank among the poorer of our choices. Had anyone other than Roy and I actually finished the book, maybe our discussion would have been more favorable. That's a broad hint to those of you still on p. 124.

Apart from the book, though, the company also left something to be desired. With the arrival of Chris, the MBC has sunk to a new, literary low. Through force of personality, and a little charm and swagger (he does manage other people's money, after all), Mr. B succeeded in tearing us away from our usual selection criteria in favor of murder/poker/showgirls. Our next book, therefore, is Positively Fifth Street, a non-fiction account of the World Series of Poker and the Ted Binion murder trial by James McManus. Here's an Amazon link:

(Please note that this deviation is an EXCEPTION. We return to our usual nail-biting, cliff-hanging Pulitzers immediately thereafter!!)

By special request, we are skipping August and will meet at Mr. B's residence on September 11. Given the nature of our reading material, the evening will feature discussion of the book along with a few hands of poker. As a measure of his sportsmanship, Chris has promised to drink heavily and lose graciously.

Between now and September 11, we wish Garth, John, and Tom well during their trip to Burning Man. Bring back pictures and stories for the rest of us! We also wish Stan well in Wyoming as he recuperates from his latest orthopedic intervention (hope that knee heals fast).

PS: Dan, choosing baseball over the Man Book Club is simply not good form. Next time tell us you're attending a Broadway opening. That will arouse our interest and understanding. All of us, that is, except Chris, who had the nerve to turn on the telly (I think that's Australian) during our discussion of Oscar & Lucinda....

Jun 6, 2007

Thanks to John and Next Book

Many thanks to John for hosting last night. I'm told that, in some book clubs, such a priority is placed on the food and drink that the actual book discussion is secondary. Fortunately, judging from last night's food service, we are in no danger of straying from our core mission. Cold and hungry, our bookmen somehow managed to choke out a few observations on this fascinating, if polarizing, novel by Cormac McCarthy.

For our next book, we have selected Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey. My quick research reveals that this is a romance set in Australia , but is most definitely not Chick Lit (and therefore does not violate the Cardinal Rule of MBC). At 448 pages, I encourage everyone to start reading before July 10. Stan, if you need more time, take it from your day job and not from our company on July 10.

Peter will host our next meeting on July 10 at 7:00 pm. He has promised to serve us nothing canned or with its labels removed.

As a reminder to all, and to impose a little discipline on folks like Dean (Manchester United?!), come prepared with a book recommendation that meets our criteria (major award winner in the last 10 years, less than 500 pages, no chick lit). Go to for a list and summaries of the different award winning books.

Jun 1, 2007

John to host next

Just a reminder that John is hosting our meeting on Tuesday, June 5, at 7:00 p.m. John will supply the food; libations are your responsibility. (Hint to Garth: that means BYOB.) John has warned me that his hospitality will be in keeping with the theme of our book, so bring warm clothing and an open mind.

For those of you who haven't read or finished The Road, don't worry. It reads quickly, if joylessly, and will stick with you long after you've put it down. (One of our members, who can't attend Tuesday's meeting and will remain nameless because he chose an evening with his in-laws over MBC, complained that The Road was a long and tedious journey in a relatively few pages. I disagree with Dave--oops!--but thought I would pass on his sentiments.)

May 14, 2007

After the Stain

Thanks to everyone for showing up last Thursday. I still rate The Human Stain an 8 out of 10, even though there were some naysayers in the crowd.

John has agreed to host the next meeting, and has selected Cormac McCarthy's 2007 Pulitzer fiction winner, The Road. The meeting will be Tuesday, June 5, at 7:00 pm. More details soon.

Meantime, here's some commentary on the book:

A father and his son walk alone through burned America . Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearting, a cart of scavenged food — and each other.
The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, each the other's world entire, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

PS: The book is now in paperback, but (as Tom told us) there are plenty of like-new hardcovers available online.

Mar 28, 2007

Starting Man Book Club

This is for men who, if you're like me, used to read for pleasure but now-when not reading for work-mostly read periodicals and airport paperbacks. You miss the satisfaction of regularly reading an interesting book all the way to the end. You may also miss the sharing that comes from a non-business, non-civic, non-team men's group. You want something more communal than soccer game or swim meet chats, but less exhausting than a 12-step encounter.

So, the solution is a book club that men will enjoy. It's about getting guys together AND it's about books. It's not about just one or the other. If you're interested, read on. If you think this is lame, read on anyway.

The concept: Like conventional book clubs, we will rotate houses and meet once a month. We talk about the selected book, whether we've read it or not. And maybe we veer into other areas. We don't talk about our jobs or politics or religion unless asked.

Differences from the typical book club model:
1. We eat dinner, not appetizers. Nothing fancy, but the host will provide sandwich fixings/soup/salad, etc. (All on paper plates, of course.) We may do a restaurant dinner from time to time.
2. We don't argue over what book to read, because the selection process is fixed and is designed to compensate for our years of literary deficit. (More below.)
3. We don't read chick lit (defined as books by women about women). Even if they otherwise meets the selection criteria below.
4. We don't invite our children or spouses or anyone with a humanities Ph.D to join us.

Book selection process: The host picks the book from a list of past winners (10 years or less) or current winners of the National Book Award, American Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Pulitzer Prize, PEN/Faulkner Award, Whitbread/Costa Prize, or the Man Booker Prize. For a list of winners for each of these awards, and book synopses, check this URL:

Using a recognized list solves several problems. It eases the pain of finding a book in the first place. It helps you defend the book when no one else likes it. And it helps us catch up on titles we wanted read.

The selected book may be fiction OR nonfiction. (So, if you're increasingly into biography or history, you still have choices.) If it's more than 500 pages, or if you want to stray from the selection criteria, you must get group approval.

Discussion structure: Since men are famously unable to discuss sensitive subjects or appear intellectual, a little structure at the outset makes sense. Some possibilities: To get things started, the host will give the rest of us a little information about the author and anything special about the book's background. The host will also have printed out some questions or topics culled from a reading guide (you can find them all over the internet). If we wish, we can pull a few out of the hat for discussion. I am told by other book clubbers (yes, all women), that falling back on reading guide questions is NOT pathetic.

Time and place and first book: We will meet the first Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. I will host the first one on May 10. At that meeting, we'll get volunteers for the next several months and put out a calendar.

First book: The Human Stain, by Philip Roth (2001 PEN/Faulkner winner). Please email or call me if you are interested.