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Where are the men? Part 1

During the last 15 years, book clubs have spread across the U.S. like wildfire.

Of the millions of book club members out there, only 20-30 percent are men.

The vast majority of reading groups are all-female, although couples book clubs and mixed gender clubs are not uncommon. A 2002 study found that all-male groups comprise a measly 10 percent of book clubs.

I have interviewed an extensive number of book clubs throughout the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota and have encountered only a handful of mixed-gender groups and two all-male groups.

While I have unintentionally come across several mother-daughter book clubs, I have yet to find a father-son book club.

Historically, reading groups were first established and popularized by men, so why are today’s men so unenthused about the concept?

I can think of a couple reasons why women and men might want their book clubs to remain single-gender.

First, club meetings may foster female or male bonding, and provide an atmosphere free from the stress of gender relations or concern of sexism.

Second, women and men tend to have different reading interests.

Men gravitate toward nonfiction and historical fiction; women tend to prefer fiction and memoir, particularly stories with female protagonists. Action-adventure and science fiction are genres women alone tend to avoid, along with books on war and books containing graphic violence.

These observations speak to the mediocre showing of mixed-gender book clubs and the proliferation of all-female clubs, but fail to explain the scarcity of all-male clubs.

Tomorrow: Where are the men? Part 2

Comments (3)

  1. Submitted by dan buechler on 10/01/2009 - 01:44 pm.

    Don’t quote me on this but I think men are less likely to be flexible in what they will read together or discuss. Less likely to go along to get along. Men tend to go to movies alone, women go in pairs more often. Sign me 51, fat balding white guy.

  2. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 10/02/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    There is a scene at the beginning of the movie Yentl in which a book peddler in 19th century Russia wheels his barrow through the shtetl, crying “Novels for ladies, religious books for men!”

    Amazing how little things have changed. Maybe the lack of men’s book clubs (and co-ed book clubs) can be attributed in large part to the increasing separation of published material into “men’s books” and “women’s books.”

    I belong to an all-female book club that I enjoy a lot, but I do get frustrated by the selections sometimes. A visit to any large bookstore will reveal an entire genre of books which seem to be written primarily to be read by women’s book clubs. You know what I’m talking about: Reading Lolita in Tehran, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Empress Orchid, Three Cups of Tea, Eat, Pray, Love, Water for Elephants, and anything by Jodi Picoult. Need I go on? I usually buy the books in paperback and resell them to Half-Price Books, where they join their fellows in large stacks of the same titles, mute testimony to the fact that other ladies’ book clubs are reading the same things.

    I have observed that discussion of most of these books flags after a few minutes. There just isn’t that much to say about them. Often, by the next month’s meeting, I can barely remember the book from the month before.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that men would choose “better” or more thought-provoking books. But I do think that too many of these “ladies’ book club books” are pretty unchallenging and not very memorable. Then again, the latest John Grisham or Tom Clancy, which men like to read, probably aren’t either.

    Not to sound like a Neanderthal, but I wonder if book clubs wouldn’t be more appealing to both genders and more worthwhile if they read more of the classics. Books become classics for a reason. They tell timeless truths about the human condition and contain a wealth of situations and characters that can provoke endless discussion. They’re full of the kind of moral ambiguity that gets people talking. My club reads at least one classic a year and almost invariably these selections stimulate the most interesting discussion. Several years ago, we read Pere Goriot by Balzac, about a father reduced to poverty by his selfish daughters’ relentless fleecing. Talk about timely!

    I think the issue raised by this article is a serious one because it points to one aspect of a trend toward self-segregation of the sexes that I have observed in recent years and that I think is unfortunate.

  3. Submitted by S Mays on 10/02/2009 - 05:54 pm.

    Agree (mostly) with the author. Our gentlemen’s bookclub, a.k.a the Manzebo (named for man-izing of a backyard gazebo for our grill-out meeting to discuss The Omnivore’s Dilema) reads all kinds of books and use a democratic process entitled the shapely analysis to select our book. Apparently, the Manzebo is quite well respected as our significant others have expressed great interest in joining.

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