The Boys Book Club

by Ian Thompson

On t4th Feb 2005 the first meeting of The Boys Book Club took place in
the Victoria pub in Leeds City Centre. Little could I have known when the
meeting began what significance it would have in my life. By the end of the
meeting, however, I had a hunch that something important had started.
The book was ‘Ring Road’ by Ian Sansome. It was shit actually, but the book
was hardly the point. What took place was a kind of blokey confessional that
was part mid-life crisis and part a realisation that men just talk about
themselves in a personal way. And why should they? Men
just don’t do that sort of thing. And of course, it’s only women
who have book clubs.

But the truth is, it’s been amazing – one of the most consistently positive
events in my recent life. We argue -I mean really argue – proper
confrontation about all sorts of stuff (usually under the cover of the book
review). But, it’s one of those rare situations where nobody takes it too
seriously or takes the hump. Most of the time, it’s just really positive.

We seem to have defaulted to rules that have been described as Draconian,
but what would you expect from a load of blokes? We score first, then go
round in order and give our reviews without interruption, however long we take (and it’s usually a minimum of about 15 mins each). Then we have a free-for-all at the end. There’s no talking about the book in the weeks beforehand and no
wiki-cheats. We’re not allowed to research the book or the author. So far so

The trouble starts in the choosing of the next book, which is organic at
best. Everybody puts up books and the two biggest lit-snobs try to pretend
they are part of a democratic process as they manoeuvre the conversation to
their choice. Having said that, it usually works and Statto who keeps score
has clearly established that the book choices are better spread than we
might think.

But, much as I’m painting a bleak picture, we’ve had some amazing times. We
also do a trip abroad in October to review a book. We’ve done Palma,
Valencia (which was excellent), Madrid, Nice, Rome and recently Malaga.
Here we are in Rome at the amazing new Maxxi Gallery designed by Zaha Hadid. Phil, who is also a member is not here ‘cos he took the picture. A fine image of
mature manhood I must say it is though.

Great shot
It was Rome where we first tried the idea of doing our own writing and
reviewing it on the weekend. Despite the sometimes tough line we take, it was a
wonderful experience – some great writing and very sensitive and skilful

After a book a month for over six years, we’ve really done some reading and
got to know each other incredibly well. We did, however have our first
drop-off in 2011. One of the founder members left in a huff after he’d tried
to get Jonathan Frantzen’s ‘Freedom’ read for about 3 successive meetings
(up ‘til then he was used to getting his own way). The truth is, he was ready
to go and it’s worked out well for everyone.

I can recommend book clubs heartily for any blokes who are wondering but are
put off by the sheer girlyness of it. Boys will be boys, so the same dynamic
that prevails in the more prosaic poker nights or Fantasy Football Leagues
is still there in force, but with a significant extra ‘edge’.

Books on black
Give it a go – get in touch with your sensitive side. Have a scrap, get
pissed, swear – whatever does it for you. Book clubs are the new Football.

Top of these books by the way were Steinbeck’s ‘Grapes of Wrath’, Bukowski’s
‘Post Office’, Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankensein’, a weird book by Salvador
Plascencia called ‘The People of Paper’ and  ‘Maus’, a famous graphic novel
by Art Spiegelman.


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