Thursday, January 17, 2013

A book club after all

Third time is perhaps the charm. I attended an organizational meeting for a book club this week -- my third attempt since coming to Washington. The first one was a new club at the Albermarle, which was fine for awhile but a bit haphazard. The second was organized through the listserv and was supposed to be all men reading nonfiction. The selections quickly became mixed but for me the chemistry wasn't quite right.

My situation has changed, and my reading habits, so I think in general I might be more in sync with idea of a book club. This one, too, was organized through the listserv and again was targeted exclusively at men. Most book clubs of course are composed of just women, and there are some couples' book clubs. Clearly, however, sensibilities in reading can diverge significantly between men and women. Most of the 14 men who showed up for the organizational meeting named mysteries and thrillers among their favored genres, though in the end two of the books we considered reading had recently been read by Andrea's book clubs.

There was a further twist to this club that appealed to me and I suspect to the others as well. It was convened for a Wednesday afternoon -- effectively excluding anyone who works full-time in an office. So it was a group of mostly retired men, some of them for 10 years or longer. Some still do consulting work or of counsel in a law firm. For the first time in a long time, I once again had the sense of being the youngest in the room or at least one of the youngest.

I think the importance of this age similarity is often underestimated. The two successful book clubs Andrea belongs to consists almost exclusively of women in the same age range. The shared experiences, cultural cues and icons, the view of the world vary considerably among people in different age groups, and especially in generations.

Our first selection is a nonfiction book, Monsoon by Robert Kaplan, which I brought to show around and recommended on the basis of other books of his that I've read. I was a bit surprised at the alacrity with which this suggestion was taken up, indicating how curious everyone is about Asia's role in the future. I of course like Kaplan because he is focused on the relationship between geography and politics and so is one of my role models for Superregions. We decided that the person recommending a book should host the meeting, unless he doesn't want to for some reason.

A couple of people suggested Art of Fielding, a novel by Chad Harbach and one of the books Andrea read at her club, so that will be our second book.

With my resolution to read more this year, I worry less that one of the four books I read each month might be one I wouldn't necessarily have chosen. In fact, as we discussed possible choices, one suggestion of Why Does the World Exist by Jim Holt sounds so interesting I may read it whether we choose it for the club or not.

One of the things that has changed for me is that after more than five years working at home, I'm feeling the need for some outside community. It was one of my motivations for embarking on an Italian course, and I think it is primarily the social interaction that appeals to me about this club. One of the organizers, in fact, was someone I met at our series of bridge classes, which was a nice community over a period of months.

So we'll see how many people show up for the next meeting. In the previous men's book club, an initial group of a dozen-plus was quickly winnowed to half a dozen and there was trouble sustaining that number. We'll see how this one goes.

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