Real Men and Real Women join a book club to improve their minds. But before you tackle something timely like Ron Chernow’s 731-page Alexander Hamilton, better think twice. Book clubs are as treacherous as email or Facebook, except you actually have to deal with each other’s blasphemy, quirks, and wrongheadedness in person. Remember the golden rule — what we should read and what we will read are two different things — as well as these 10 tips, and your club just might work.
1. Do not choose a book with lists such as this one. Pick a real book, with chapters and big words and some context and cred.
2. Book clubs are old-fashioned, aggressively so. Once in session, no television, no smartphones, no texting, no distractions, no Facebook. A book club is strictly face to face. “Date change” and “when are we meeting?” are acceptable subject lines in the email message string, which will become hopelessly confusing by the time the group meets anyway.
3. The meeting interval matters. Weekly is too short. Quarterly is too long. Two months feels about right, but you must time your read so you don’t finish too soon and forget the book, as with dreams and jokes, or too late, so you don’t finish at all, as with required reading in high school and college. Pick a date and hope for the best; achieving consensus is a fool’s errand.
4. Remember that nightmare where you’re back in school and haven’t read the book and the test is in two hours and you may or may not be naked? Forget it. Nobody has nightmares about book club. No one gets called on or called out, and lectures and showing off are taboo.
5. Celebrity biographies and self-help books are out, even though the “new release” shelf at the library and the best-seller lists are full of them. The authors are usually looking for prospects or, worse, converts. Avoid them. In a book club you should be at a point in your life where you are what you are and comfortable in your own skin. Or you may be asked to leave.
6. Quirky personal favorites and classics are fine, as is the occasional dud. Ripping a book that is too long, too dated, too boring, or too complicated can be as entertaining as savoring a good one. The group is not going to stay on-topic most of the time anyway. A personal story can make a book choice memorable. Beware that the classics you had to read in high school may not hold up well. How in the hell did we ever read them as teenagers?
7. Going off-topic is all right, to a point. A serious effort must be made to actually discuss the book, the author, the subject, or the historical period. Reading wine labels is not a book club.
8. No women, no wives. Or, no men, no husbands. Go unisex. Spouses say hello and discreetly disappear. Mixed company enlivens politics, cocktail parties, bedrooms, and boardrooms, but a book club is a throwback. What happens in book club . . . It helps if the members come from different places, occupations, and backgrounds, but share a long residence in Memphis, otherwise the stories and gossip fall flat or leave some people out.
9. Meet on a weeknight for an hour or two, no more. “I have to work tomorrow” is always a valid excuse for leaving even if everyone knows you’re lying and you don’t even have a job. The atmosphere should include booze but not be boozy. Dinner is not essential but highly advisable. Food and drink are the lubricants of conversation.
10. The host chooses the book and provides the meal, giving a double meaning to “bringing something to the table.”