By now we’ve all read or seen or heard about The New York Times article skewering all-male book clubs. These groups, consisting entirely and exclusively of men, purportedly get together and do nothing but read books by men about men. And, we can only assume from the context, also drink whiskey and tell sexist jokes and reminisce about the good old pre-women’s suffrage days. Whether this is genuinely newsworthy or just calculated clickbait, I’m not sure, but one thing is certain; the corresponding outrage is real.
Just about instantly, the twitternet and blogosphere exploded with snarky backlash. “Well at least someone will still be reading John Updike” read one of the funnier comments I saw. Another “#masculinitysofragile.” Yo! I get it. I do. But is there more to the story?
Frankly, the fact that men are reading at all is…a good thing, right? I have no statistics to support this other than my own personal experience, but most of the men I know don’t read books at all. And those who do stick almost exclusively to formulaic spy/guy stuff like Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum. If men are reading more high brow, literary works, even those written by other men, isn’t that better? A net good for reading and literature?
What is it specifically that everyone is so incensed about? Consider this; if someone were to write an article about an all female book club that only read books written by women, would that be newsworthy? I think we can all agree that the answer to that question is a resounding “no”. In fact, that describes…many of the books clubs that I am familiar with. Don’t a lot of book groups consist of all women? And don’t many of them read books written predominantly, if not exclusively, by women, perhaps simply by taste rather than conscientious choice?
Maybe it’s the choice that’s bothering people. These men apparently choose to only read books written by other men. Here again, I think we can all agree that these men are missing out, certainly. I don’t want to live in a world without Donna Tartt or Elena Ferrante or Virgina Woolf or Anaïs Nin. But I also don’t think I should be judged or scorned for reading and liking David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, George Saunders, Alain de Botton, and Ian McEwan.
Is it that these groups are only groups of men? And if so, here is maybe a more poignant question: what women would want to be part of a group of men whom, if given their preference, would prefer they weren’t there?
What I guess I really want to know is what all these outraged internet people would have these men do instead? Should they just stop reading altogether? Read books they don’t enjoy for the pure sake of inclusion and broadening their horizons? I don’t disagree that, even if forced, they would most probably enjoy the experience, and be better for it. But should people be forced to read things they don’t want to read? Should we force people to read what we think is best with no accounting for their personal taste?
I have had profound conversations about books with both men and women. I couldn’t and wouldn’t identify one of those experiences as better than the other. It has more to do with the individual. A connection over mutual fondness for a book is one of the best feelings in the world. The shared love of a book can bring you closer faster than just about any other experience.
I would never want to just read books by men or just read books by women either. I don’t have a favorite author or a favorite book; I have many favorite authors, countless favorite books. Reading just books by men or just books by women, just based on gender, would be asinine. But I think that goes both ways. Are all these all-female book clubs, for whatever reason predominantly reading books written by women, also worthy of scorn? If not, why not? What’s the difference?
I’m not just asking rhetorically; I really want to know. What is so upsetting/newsworthy about these man book club groups? Is it really that bad? And what should be done about it?
Hit me up, Dunce Academy. This dunce wants to know.