Saturday, October 3, 2009

Response to MinnPost Article on Men's Book Groups

See MinnPost Where are the men? Part 2 by Audra Otto, Oct 2 2009 7:46 am

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...

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