A Matter of Opinion

If you're in the mood to hear opposite takes on the same matter, try attending a book group. The very same book, which you might imagine resonates the very same way with every reader, turns out to land as differently on two persons as if one were finding daylight and the other groping through the dark.

I'll testify to this after two years of belonging to what was starting as a new gay men's book group. When I first heard about the group, I thought this will never fly. Was I wrong!

Gay men, a lot of gay men, it turns out, read books, and do like to say what they thought about them. (A chance also to meet someone new doesn't hurt the attendance.) From nine or 10 at the start, the group now numbers several times that, men of different ages and lots of opinions.

Why would I have thought that gay men think alike? What gay men have in common is that they're men and are gay. Our tastes run the gamut in movies, food, and clothes, and it turns out in books also.

Our group meets one evening a month in the Village in downtown in Manhattan. Jon, the group leader, posts the date but does not issue special invitations; it's open to any gay man. Still, the room is filled each month -- even on the wettest, snowiest night, with men who, happily or not, committed at least, digested the book chosen for that month. There comes a core of steady attendees plus a reliable number of new men curious to try out the event.

We've delved into mostly fiction and some non-fiction (people tend to be attracted more to one than the other.) I don't care for historical fiction, but others do. I like memoir, but not everyone does. I now know not to expect others to agree with what I thought about a book. I may not have changed my mind about the book by the end of the evening, but it's good to hear opinions other than mine, as earnest as mine. At times I've thrown in the pot suggestions for a couple of books to be read, certain they would garner unanimous applause. Wrong again!

Jon, our founder, who remains loyally at the helm of the group, tries in an hour-and-a-half or so to quell those who like to talk too much and give time to those reluctant about speaking. He's pointed out that the book group causes him to read works he might otherwise not have read. That's a good enough reason for the group to exist.

Books are chosen by members' suggestions, and the books have not been limited to gay themes. If what we're reading is not new, it usually happens that some men have read it before -- and found it more, and sometimes, less interesting, on a second go-round.

If the book is recent, there's a good chance that the author is alive. So far none has been seen. Even if tempted, he might prefer to boycott the meeting. If he comes, he'd better wrap himself in a tough skin to hear that his book is not liked by everyone. As a writer who has created a few books of his own, it's reassuring to me to be reminded that unanimous praise doesn't come to even popular authors.

Stanley Ely writes about writing, and reading, in his new book, "Life Up Close," in paperback and ebook.