Gay Men's Book Groups

Man reading book, close-up
Man reading book, close-up

The New York Times recently unlocked a secret: not only do men read books, they form book groups -- groups for men who read books!

The newspaper covered some such groups, in different cities, including a gay men's book group in Manhattan more than two years old (and that I've written about in this journal). This group, it must be said, is more democratic than some others, which erect fences on what they allow (e.g., no books about women, no women main characters). The gay men's group does choose books mainly with gay characters or themes, but not all. Women characters don't get locked out.

I heard about the Manhattan gay men's group early on, and I joined skeptical of whether it had a chance to survive (do gay men read and want to talk about books?) Eight or ten guys who had heard of the group came on the first Tuesday of a month, book in hand. We met in the leader's art gallery in the East Village, my skepticism soon laid to rest. The discussion was sometimes fun, sometimes serious, invariably smart. Guys came.

The group began to grow, so much so that we needed a larger space. Jon, our faithful leader, scoured the neighborhood to locate a new meeting place. He found the manager of a branch of the New York Public Library who offered to keep that building open at night for us, charging us nothing. Our first Tuesday club moved into a large room of a wonderful library in Greenwich Village.

The original idea remained unchanged. Gay men who have read the book come to engage in an hour or more's discussion. Members suggest titles, ranging from new to old, fiction to non-fiction. Forming a circle, everyone has a chance to speak. For some, post-meeting socializing moves to a nearby bar.

The idea for a gay men's book group has been a victim of its own success: there are now so many men who want to come that a cap is sometimes put on the number invited. All those gay men wandering around New York City with their heads in books!

There was room for more, and just this month, a second gay men's book group was inaugurated in Manhattan, this one called the Third Tuesday Gay Men's Book Club. (Two weeks between the first and third Tuesdays avoid conflict and encourage someone to attend both.) Together with three others, I helped to organize the new group, profiting from an invitation to meet in the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore, recently renovated, on Lexington Ave. at 69th St., across from Hunter College. The Third Tuesday club will function independent of the First Tuesday group, selecting our own books and our own leaders.

The first meeting of the Third Tuesday club had small attendance, a reminder of how the original group was at its start. That will likely grow, but hopefully not too much. Discussion centered around Andre Aciman's 2007 novel, Call Me By Your Name. June's book will be Christopher Isherwood's A Single Man.

Will this keep growing until we're all over the map? Since it seems indisputable that gay men do read books, you can't tell. For sure I was wrong back then.

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Stanley Ely writes about reading in "Life Up Close, a Memoir" in paperback and ebook.