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Where are the men? Part 2

Perhaps contemporary men’s book clubs are less common simply because men read less.

Surveys in the U.S., Canada and Britain consistently find that women read more books than men, especially fiction. In fact, men account for only 20 percent of the fiction market. Oprah’s Book Club and her largely female following have likely reinforced this trend.

It’s possible that reading groups hold a special interest for women as sites for sorting out the social construction of female identity.

According to Elizabeth Long, author of “Book Clubs: Women and the Uses of Reading in Everyday Life,” women, more often than men, deal with conflicting cultural expectations about their roles, duties, and identity.

Conceivably, contemporary women have a stronger inclination to join in collective reflection and dialogue between books and lives because these activities facilitate the negotiation of identity and its complexities.

I suppose the statistics on men and book clubs puzzle me most because it seems that joining a book group would be equally appealing to both genders.

Both men and women crave the periodic escape from the daily grind of work and family responsibilities that reading and group meetings can provide.

Both men and women seek the intellectual stimulation, cultural exploration, and entertainment that books and debates offer.

And certainly, the support, friendship, and validation found in book groups draws members of both genders.

To boil it down:

Don’t men, as much as their female counterparts, like hanging out with friends, discussing, and eating snacks?

Why have men traditionally socialized and bonded over sports games rather than books?

Men, if you belong to a book club, share your experience with us.

If you have insight as to why men remain a small minority of book clubbers, please, enlighten us!

We’d also be interested to hear recommended reads for men’s book clubs.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Ed Stych on 10/02/2009 - 11:18 am.

    Audra, you have to look at the broader culture to get some of your answers. Men don’t go to church (61 percent of parishioners nationwide are female). Women have dominated universities for years now. Just about every school has female enrollment of 55 percent to 60 percent, and I think many schools actively try to control that by making it easier for men to get in so as not to go over that 60-percent mark. Graduate programs have even a larger percentage of females. My son is studying magazine writing, and he’s the only male in his class. Males in English-type programs are highly sought after, just as females are highly sought after in engineering-type programs.

    A great book that discusses some of the questions you’re asking is “Why Men Hate Going to Church.” The book looks at the larger culture. I highly recommend it.

    Bottom line is that I would say that many men want to do something that’s more active than reading and discussing, and many men have a hard time discussing their “feelings” and their thoughts. That’s a very surface answer to your question.

    The only book groups I’ve belonged to have been Bible studies … mostly male-only Bible studies.

    In one Bible study I did with my wife, it was interesting to see what books of the Bible appealed to the different genders. The women loved “Ruth,” while the men enjoyed the last few chapters of “Acts,” where Paul is being a man’s man, surviving shipwrecks, etc.

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 10/02/2009 - 11:23 am.

    I gotta admit a couple of your paragraphs turned me off and I’m a reader. Men drink more beer in their off hours, women drink more caffeine could there be a connection?

  3. Submitted by Christian Franken on 10/03/2009 - 04:10 pm.

    I belong to a book group and have to say that all arguments made in favor of why men should be no less likely to join book groups than women apply to me. I go because I like to read. I go to socialize, drink a beer or a glass of wine and talk politics, literature and what else is going on in our lives with some friends that I mostly see only for book group. It does remove me from everyday routine of life, it’s certainly something I look forward to. But I disagree with some of Audra’s points, too. I am not big into watching sports and the athletic activities I partake in are rather solitary in nature, so no socializing. But other guys in my book group do watch the games and are active in team sports. Reading and non-reading activities are not mutually exclusive. You could just as easily make the arguments that women do not join book groups because they watch soaps and sitcoms. Potentially, any non-reading activity infringes on reading time.

    Another way to ask this question would be to wonder whether one gender may be more disciplined in finishing the task of finishing a book group assignment than the other. My wife belongs to a book group that was formed when a group of women deserted from a club that was run in such a dictatorial way that members would be chastised if they did not finish the reading. Now, reading is rather optional and socializing with and without the focus of a book is more important. Our own men’s book group has several members that refuse to continue reading a book that does not “speak” to them. They say that they have time only for a finite number of books to read and they want every one to count. Both of these observations seem to indicate that reading as such may not that important in convening a group centered on that activity.

    Also, how would you factor in informal discussion about a recently read book? I know, discussing game scores or the going-ons in current block-buster TV-shows are more likely fodder for conversations at the water cooler. I do get together with a couple of colleagues for lunch every other week. We do not specifically get together to discuss books, but somehow about one half of our conversations tend to be centered on our current readings, despite having rather divergent tastes (one reads almost exclusively non-fiction, another reads a mix and I read almost exclusively fiction). Is this a book group? Based on the amount of talk about books, it should be. And it’s guys talking about books, and it meets much more frequently than my regular book group. By the way, I am the only one who is a member of a bona fide book group.

    In the end, it’s most likely culture that causes men to convene around the big screen TV for the game and women to join a book group. It’s what we experience while growing up that dictates what gender-typical behavior we display. I haven’t looked at any peer-reviewed studies on how much and how men and women read and how they discuss their readings with their peers. Representing book group membership, I would not be surprised to see two bell-shaped curves with slightly offset peaks, one a little larger than the other, the smaller one representing males. A similar graph could likely be drawn for folks who congregate to follow the NFL or any other sports franchise. Here, the smaller hump would belong to the females. When I can’t find anything good to read, I may do some looking around to see if some scholar has looked into this. But that is not very likely to happen. So many books, and so little time…

  4. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 10/05/2009 - 09:00 am.

    My wife is in a book club. Their reading list sounds like a list Oprah would have created. My impression is that most of the discussion has little to do with the reading. It is more of a social bonding thing.

    I read a lot, from trashy mysteries to classics to history. I know few men that read on a regular basis and the only reading groups I know of that include men are bible studies. I don’t see much worth discussing in mysteries or even histories; they are what they are. It would be fun to share knowledge about various topics in history, but after the initial, “wow, that was interesting” I don’t see much to discuss.

    That would leave classics and some thought-provoking contemporary literature. I guess I’m the only guy I know who reads that. I think good fiction best lends itself to these types of discussions. I recommended As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner to my wife for her club for a couple years but gave up.

    I see two big drawbacks to men’s book clubs. Most men I know read almost nothing besides the paper and the internet. And most guys I know have no interest in deeper discussion that might reveal feelings and thoughts about themselves. Maybe I could organize a sports biography book club but how boring would that be? I grieve for American literacy.

  5. Submitted by dan buechler on 10/05/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    Has anyone read American Rust by Phillip Meyer? A great men’s read.

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