Thank God There’s A Book Club Just For Men, Because That’s What The World Needed
In yet another clever bit of trolling from the LOL-factory that is the New York Times Style Section, we learned today that yes, Virginia, men have their own book clubs because they also need a safe space to discuss books, away from the prying eyes of women. One could reasonably argue that a safe space for men to discuss books is also the working definition of the history of humanities up until very recently, but that is neither here nor there.
Writer Jennifer Miller embedded deep into the wild and wooly world of clubs where men clap each other on the back, chomping cigars and drinking great tumblers of whiskey and talking smack about the little missus at home. What she found, apparently, was a group of men who felt oppressed enough to carve out a space for themselves to discuss literature written by men for men with men because the fragility of contemporary masculinity requires the erasure of any woman’s accomplishments in favor of trumpeting the continued mediocrity of your Franzens and whatnot.
Oh, and I guess the menfolk wanted their own book club because they were jealous of their wives’. According to Andrew McCullough, the founder of the aptly-named Man Book Club which is in its 9th year, he started the salon-cum-bro-fest after years of watching the little lady participate in one herself.
“I was always a little jealous of my wife’s book clubs,” Mr. McCullough said. “Now our wives are jealous of us. We’ve created something that is more durable. The book club my wife belongs to — there’s a lot of changeover.”
While I cannot attest to the veracity of Mr. McCullough’s statement, his subtle shade about “changeover” in the rarefied and catty circles of book clubs for women did not go unnoticed. You know how women are, really. So emotional, so fragile. So quick to run at the first sign of conflict. The fetid miasma of emotions swirling around in a woman’s book club is surely something that men don’t have to contend with and so their book clubs are as strong and as solid as their manly names.
One imagines these men consider the entire cannon when selecting books for their club. One would also be incorrect. The website for the Man Book Club lists the criteria for potential book candidates.
1. No books by women about women (our cardinal rule)
2. Under 500 pages
3. Author has won/been nominated for a major literary award (or any award)
The entirety of this article is preposterous in a way that raises some ire but not much. But, the requirement that the books be written by men for men, under 500 pages and prestigious enough to have been nominated for “any” award means that the only books these jerks will wade through are the literary onanisms of leonine Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård. That is a fate I would not wish on my worst enemy. The trouble is, discounting the work of an entire gender — and the work that concerns their experience — for the sake of creating a “safe space” in a world that is basically a safe space for your very existence is dumb. Of course a man’s book club would ignore the work of women; it’s a fool’s errand to assume otherwise. But, something about this is gravely disappointing.
Supporters of this “trend” might squint and point to similar declarations of selective reading. At Jezebel, Jia Tolentino expounded on the trend of “reading wokely:” reading only books by women of color as an attempt at dismantling systemic and institutional racism via the books you choose to read. She writes,
If the Year of Reading Wokely is supposed to model a behavior that should be normalized—reading from a wide range of experiences, valuing what is under-represented—we might do well to understand that it’s already well within our power to normalize that behavior, which would not mean extensively discussing our reading habits or restricting them for self-improvement, but just purchasing, consuming, talking about the work.
Some might say that this is really the same thing — that reading books only by men for men is a necessary and vital part of reclaiming masculinity and that by choosing to participate in reading books that are only for men about men and by men, the members of this club are undertaking the same task as those who chose to only read books by people of color for one whole year. But a decided lack of economic and racial diversity in publishing, the patriarchy’s continued dominance and the fact that reading only books by men about men for an entire year is basically what any college freshman’s Intro to English Lit class is demonstrates that these are two very different phenomena.
Everyone who wants to read should read whatever they want without making their reading habits stand in for the work they should be doing to be a better person. Men reading books by men for men in club chairs drinking cigars is really fine; out of all the things one could be angry about, this is a drop in the bucket. Everyone can — and should — read as much as humanly possible. Just keep your preferences to yourselves. Read without any discrimination and your experience will be all the more meaningful for it.