May 6, 2016
Manly book clubs are manly, prefer Henry Miller to Jane Austen and Rocky Mountain Oysters to wine
by Julia Fleischaker
The Man Book Club of Marin County bills itself as a book group for men who want “to discuss books that challenge us…to find meaning and enjoyment in literature.” So, it goes without saying that their “cardinal rule,” listed right there on their on homepage, is “no books by women about women.”
You might expect the International Ultra Manly Book Club (IUMBC), based in Kansas City, has the same sort of rule. But you’d be wrong. Although they rate books on a manliness scale of one to five grenades, Marilynne Robinson earned three grenades for Gilead. In a choice one member calls a “huge mistake” though, Water for Elephants bombed out with zero grenades, and led the group to adopt a rule of their own: “We are not allowed to suggest books that our mothers have suggested.”
In a perfect New York Times Style section story, Jennifer Miller talked with these and other book groups dedicated to the art of what we might call “manly reading.” Miller found that men were jealous of their wives’ book clubs (though, of course, the men’s groups are “more durable”), and had been dreaming of the day to “step out of the shadow of our mothers’ book clubs and proclaim that yes, we too, are intellectuals.” Yeah! Just keep reading other men, all you men out there, and maybe one day you’ll be taken seriously!
Even for manly men, the benefits of a book group go beyond just reading. Miller spoke with Edward Nawotka about his book club, the Houston Men’s Book Club:
But over discussions of José Saramago, Haruki Murakami and Anthony Doerr, the 15 members of his group have formed a bond. “We’ve seen each other through family tragedies,” Mr. Nawotka said. “When I needed a divorce attorney, I turned to these guys.” And when the founding member’s wife died from cancer, all the club members attended the funeral.
That’s hard to argue with, and we would never discourage reading, or joining a book group. But, as Meredith Clark at Glamour writes, who needs these rules? Clark points out that “rather than think about it too much, pick up a book—any book—and if you don’t like it, pick up another one, no judgment on the gender of the author or characters needed.”
Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.