I belong to a club whose chances for survival I rated as puny. It's a book club for gay men, a gay men's book club. A club for gay men who like to read!
After its predecessor failed, a new club began, shepherded by a very friendly gay fellow who, yes, likes to read. That happened a year ago. Jon Tomlinson is the shepherd, co-owner of an art gallery in downtown Manhattan, transplanted from San Francisco. He generously opens the gallery's doors for the book club one evening each month. Guys bring or chip in for refreshments.
It's not hard to believe that Jon spreads magic dust, because membership is dictated only by desire, yet every month 10 or 12 gents gather and spend an hour and a half in earnest discussion of a chosen book, wavering off the subject only from time to time and engaging hardly at all in the act of cruising (at least not noticeably). Along with some familiar faces usually attend a few newcomers; the age category is predominantly 40 plus. (By now I'm used to being the oldest person in a group, and I am. The others are kind enough not to jeer.)
With discussion started, everyone can voice his like or dislike of the chosen work. Rarely do opinions lack, rarely are they stated timidly. Never are they all the same. Even so, there's not much shouting and an admirable store of mutual respect.
Over this past year the book group has explored a catholic selection of titles -- some gay, some not, half fiction, half not, some brand new, many not. Some short, some Russian-novel-length long. Some whose adoring reviews could leave you puzzled (me at least). Before the group disbands, a book gets picked for the next month, and men fall in line -- some willing to read the work for a second time.
As a group member, I give myself the grade of B, maybe B-. I excuse that by being busy, though I'm sure others are busier. No matter the mediocre grade, I talk a good amount, even when, sometimes off the record, I didn't quite get to the end of the book.
By one month from the previous meeting, almost all have really read the book. Terrific. Jon says one thing he likes about the club is that it leads him to read works he might otherwise pass on. (Hearing that, I've had to squash the temptation to nominate some book of mine, since there's quite a good chance they are works he's passed on. There's another one out soon, so the temptation grows.)
The success of the book club leads me to imagine some spinoffs: the gay men's upholstering furniture club, for instance. But groups are spread all over town already, and I'll leave them untested. Someone else may want to give them a try.
As for the gay men's book club, I'm glad it's survived my dubious forecast. I leave usually feeling more appreciative of the book and always feeling better about the human element.
- - -
My new book, so far not on the club's reading list, is called "Life Up Close, a Memoir", and will be out soon from Dog Ear Publishers, available from Amazon.
Follow Stanley Ely on Twitter: www.twitter.com/StanleyEly