May 10

Misconstruing the Man Book Club, and we recommend Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, and Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo.

 

Booktopia was this past weekend, and it was the first Booktopia not organized by us. Northshire Bookstore and the Inn at Manchester put together a wonderful weekend, judging by the comments and photos we saw online. If you weren’t able to attend, but want to read some of the books that were featured, here’s a list.

 

audiobooksAudiobook of the week (02:42) 



Wild Robot, Peter BrownThe Wild Robot by Peter Brown, narrated by Kate Atwater, is my pick for this week’s Audiobooks.com Audiobook of the Week.

Special thanks to Audiobooks.com for sponsoring this episode of Books on the Nightstand.

Audiobooks.com allows you to listen to over 100,000 audiobooks, instantly, wherever you are, and the first one is free. Download or stream any book directly to your Apple or Android device. Sign up for a free 30-day trial and free audiobook download by going to www.audiobooks.com/freebook

 

No Women Allowed? (07:18)

A recent New York Times article, called Men Have Book Clubs, Too, led to a bit of discussion on my Facebook page. I made a pretty harsh pronouncement about the members of The Man Book Club, however my opinion was very much colored by the article and by my slight misreading of it. One of their rules (which they admittedly don’t always follow) is no books by a woman about a woman.

Ann and I discuss the possible reasons for this rule and whether it could ever be considered a good thing to limit one’s reading this way.

Be sure to read the group’s blog post, titled An Apologia, where they respond to the omissions in, and misconceptions perpetrated by, the NYT article. And do check out the list of books they have read thus far.

I officially apologize for my original comment!

 

Two Books We Can’t Wait For You to Read (22:24)

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I recommend Paper Girls, Vol. 1, written by Brian K. Vaughan, with art by Cliff Chiang. It’s the story of 4 twelve-year-old paper girls in 1988. It’s the morning after Halloween, and strange “people” are wandering their neighborhood. Are they teenagers still in costume from the night before, or are they something more sinister?

A few weeks ago, Ann recommended Nobody’s Fool for our Don’t You Forget About Me. She read it recently to prepare for reading Richard Russo’s newest book Everybody’s Fool. The new book returns to North Bath, NY. It’s both funny and tragic, and it revisits many of the characters from the first book, as well as introducing some new ones. Ann promises that you don’t have to have read the older book to enjoy the new one!

  • AndiF2

    I agree with Michael — and probably had a much stronger reaction. They have a very dismissive attitude toward books written by women about women: they’re chicklit, they’re too feminist, they’re too eat-pray-lovey. With a figurative wave of the hand, Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” becomes chicklit and “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” must be touchy-feely mush-fest.

    I would have actually preferred that they said they just read books by men since their implication that the way for a female author to attain credibility and worthiness is to write about men is incredibly sexist and insulting.

  • AndiF2

    P.S. I love the podcast. Thanks so much for all the good listening.

  • Austeja Banyte

    Michael is absolutely right and there was no need to apologize:). Of course these men, or anyone else for that matter, have a right to limit themselves based on whatever weird feature they decide to. For example, we can narrow it down to literature written only by white, caucasian, healthy heterosexual men. If someone feels like limiting oneself then it is his/her choice, but I believe, if they somehow advertise their narrow mindedness they should also be called out. To that end, I was slightly disappointed by Ann’s comments, where she says that thing about them wanting to understand more about what being a male means, or something along the lines. Giving so much credit to a performance called gender is quite ridiculous. I do not think that your genitals should determine your lifestyle, character, intellect, choices, talent and etc. (which means there are no secrets in being a man or a woman). Gender stereotypes are especially bothering when it comes to Literature and this was one of the things why the men deserved to be called “jerks.” As AndiF2 mentioned, if we stereotype female writers as pink princesses who only write about romance, we are misrepresenting them and sort of creating another lie which might inhibit other people from reading authors simply because they have a vagina, which apparently renders them incapable of creating not only a great story, but also a great vagina-having character. Thus I think that that book club is neither interesting nor exciting, they are sort of misogynist, because they believe and spread the stereotype, while we have all these absolutely amazing female writers from Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, not to mention all the other female writers of the world unknown to the English-speaking world.

  • Carol Kubala

    I didn’t see Michael’s original post on facebook. The topic definitely an interesting one and I’m glad you discussed this today. I tried to see both sides of the issue but feel Michael’s analysis fits more how I feel. I’m not certain exactly what the true criteria is for what this group chooses to read but they are reading books with female characters; perhaps ones that the female is not the sole protagonist. I agree that they are limiting experiencing the female pov on many levels. In some ways this feels as if my gender viewpoint is not credible or worth consideration.

  • Quailing

    “We are a group of white people (and only white people, no people of color are allowed in our club) in Marin County who gather once a month to read white-themed literature. We only read books by white people or about white people. We won’t read books by people of color about people of color, so we avoid the ‘Invisible Man’ problem and the ‘Beloved’ problem. This rule helps us avoid overtly Black (and Hispanic and Asian) titles which may not appeal to the entire group of us. In conclusion, we are a group of middle-aged white people who have re-discovered the joy of reading and our efforts should be encouraged even if our choices are not as eclectic as some would like.”

    • Clarence

      Wow! Could you be more offensive in how you stick it to these man book club folks? You damn them as a bunch of white male racists but their website says they’re not all white. You compare them excluding Eat Pray Love to excluding Invisible Man, when one book is sentimental trash and the other is great. You say they avoid ethnic authors but their list of books has several famous ones. Why such hatefulness? This is the gender debate at its worst I must say. What a shame people have to be like this.

    • gapman

      in my opinion this is a hate-filled troll post and I am amazed that it has not been removed.

  • Krickett

    Many, many, MANY colleges have “Women’s Studies” majors. Why not let these men have a book club dealing with Men’s issues without hassling them.

  • Pretentious

    Thank you, Michael! Thank you, Ann! We take ourselves too seriously. When I first heard the podcast, I just wanted “to be mad for a while” as one song puts it. And I was. I read the article you linked to, I read the 2008 interview as well as the links to other manly book clubs referenced. I even read the #ManlyBookClubNames on Twitter as well as several of articles calling out these men.

    Why not a book club for men who wish to engage in intellectual conversation about reading and books? Their list is as inclusive as other lists and college syllabi I’m aware of. And kudos to Ann and Michael who come back to the list on the website to see that “there’s a wide range of topics and experiences and categories” that shows, according to Michael and Ann, that “these are real readers”!

    None of our reading is as inclusive as we’d like to claim. Making a choice at once is inclusive and exclusive. Our decisions are nearly always arbitrary choices reflecting our preferences–however limiting (narrow minded) or enlightening we or others may perceive them. Reading thematically is limiting. Choosing an author is limiting. Choosing a genre is limiting. Restricting the number of pages is limiting. Is my decision to read Jane Austen each month until I finish her work limiting and arbitrary? Of course. Is my love of David Sedaris limiting as well? Of course! But as Ann has said on many occasions, well, at least on the occasion when the discussion turned to young adult books, read whatever you want. I appreciate that Ann (and I think Michael) “hate[s] judging people for what they read” and “tarring them with a brush that is too broad.” Michael, you’re drawn to graphic novels–part of your reading preference. Is that not the same type of arbitrary decision making process that is limiting and narrow? Making such decisions is either limiting, narrow, arbitrary, or a “non-enlightened form of self-selection” or pretentious and overbearing, never simply a choice–always a judgment.

    Michael–I appreciate your apology for your own book snobbery, which you have always railed against, as well as your apologia. As Ann said, “having a focus” is not a reason to “call them a funny name.” “To learn what it is to be a man from someone else’s point of view” is something that is still a mystery and may be something these men address in their club. But as Ann pointed out, there aren’t enough details about the motives of the group to make that statement.

    “At least they’re reading” has been a pass for nearly everything: micro-fiction, short stories, comic books, graphic novels, audiobooks, study groups. And as Ann mentions, there is not a lot of detail in the article (though I enjoyed the idea to cook a meal to match the novel–that’s simple fun). It is “hard to believe [that] a good reader would limit themselves,” but isn’t that a necessary evil? Don’t we wish we had the time to read randomly to find those reading materials? I don’t have that luxury. I depend on you, Michael and Ann, to help shape my reading experiences: I trust and appreciate your recommendations! I must limit myself as a reader—to make difficult choices because of time.

    No one denies that we could all “benefit from reading more broadly” and be “a little more inclusive”; ultimately, I’m glad the discussion came back to the “I hate judging people for what they read” as those are the podcast hosts I’ve come to know! Thank you, Michael, for your apologia and your apology! And thank you, Ann, for also bringing and enlightened conversation about reading to our attention. I’m thankful, ultimately, that the podcast did not “tar this group with a brush that may or may not be accurate.”

    The food experience alone, I think, would be worth a visit.

    • MBC Member

      Thanks for the kind comments. Yes, the dinners are a big part of our experience together.

  • MBC Member

    Thank you, Michael and Ann, for your discussion of the recent NYT article about men’s book clubs, especially its provocative characterization of the Man Book Club, of which I am a member. I’m disappointed that some of the other commenters here find our selection criteria so off-putting. Here’s a little more context (beyond that contained in our Apologia—thanks for linking to that), although I suspect it won’t mollify our harsher critics.
    Our goal at the outset was to read male-themed literature, fiction mostly. It was admittedly a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to some of Oprah’s book club selections, but it was intended to help recruit guys who were reluctant to read and talk about reading. We figured we could coax guys into the club with the promise of titles that would instantly gratify. And it worked. Men who had literally stopped reading fiction decades earlier were at it again, and enjoying it. And we discovered that talking about our experiences as men (including gender roles and expectations) came easier in the context of male-oriented fiction.
    Fast forward 9 years. We’ve now coalesced into a group of really devoted readers. A few read only our monthly selections, but most read widely and bring that perspective to the titles we discuss each month. (And, yes, that perspective includes the POV of women authors.) So, you might ask, why do we cling to a “rule” that sounds (and is, somewhat) narrow? Simply put, because it reminds us of why we came together, what titles are likely to generate the most support at selection time, and that it’s a rule that (like all our rules) can be and is honored in the breach.
    It’s important (for those not in book clubs) to keep in mind that book club members tend to come and go. It’s an activity that demands commitment and the least successful groups, in my opinion, are those that repeatedly push titles that don’t resonate broadly. When that happens, people leave. Our staying power is in part due to our selection process.
    Finally, I must take exception to the comment that analogizes our “by women about women” rule to “by POC about POC.” It’s every bit as inflammatory and non-contextual as some of the lines in the NYT article. Since all but one of our members have wives and daughters, with whom we read, share, and discover on a daily basis, our decision to spend one day out of 30 seeking input from and about men is hardly separatist or exclusionary–or at least not insidiously so.

  • Amy Nash

    Jumping in to the Man book club discussion, as a woman I’m not particularly bothered. This is just one book the members read each month; assuming like most other book clubs they are avid readers and personally read widely but just discuss 1/mo. Henrietta Lacks jumps to mind as a book club Must Read & Discuss that their lives would be better for discussing as a group. Hopefully they discussed w/ family and friends.
    Our book club happens to be all women. Our rules: 400-ish page limit, paperbacks to make it most affordable for all members. After particularly challenging years, we’ve mindfully and temporarily steered away from WWII books; steered towards strong, redeeming male characters after a series of skunks as main characters. We vote on our books a year at a time, and this year we’ve gravitated towards a lot of really sad and distressing non-fiction. I have a feeling that next year we’ll gravitate towards meaty fiction titles with great character development. (Like the Man Book Club, we also steer clear of stereotypical Chick Lit having learned our lesson and got stuck way too long in India during Eat, Pray, Love.)

  • Clarence

    I have to join in after reading these comments and seeing the NY Times article and the book club site and some other feminist criticisms about all this online. While I think your podcast was great, it bothers me that both of you are bending over backwards to be so PC.

    You don’t slam other book clubs in your podcasts for choosing to read a certain type of books. In fact you give them a pass for actually reading. But your uncomfortable giving these guys a pass because they’re honest enough to admit the kind of books they don’t choose to read. What difference should that make?

    These guys seem to me to be readers who know they can’t read everything so they are drawing a line somewhere. We all do that. Does that make us bad? Does it mean that we despise the people who write the books that we’re not reading? No! So why pick on them? I think it’s because they’re an easy target in the PC culture wars. That my two cents. Thanks for bringing this up and letting folks like me share my thoughts

    • mkindness

      noted, thanks for your comment!

  • DorotheaC

    Please go back to their website and read a more detailed response to the NYT article http://manbookclub.blogspot.com/2016/05/an-apologia.html

    • mkindness

      Thanks Dorothea. We actually did read that (though not until after we recorded), and link to it in the show notes.

  • Bridget

    How fortunate are we to live in a country where we can read anything we please! Every book club has the right to establish their own guidelines among the members. They are under no obligation to modify their guidelines based on the opinions of others not in the group. The opinions of nonmembers are irrelevant. I agree with the person who commented below that Michael was trying too hard to be politically correct.

    • mkindness

      noted, thanks!

  • Don Morgan

    The internet is cruel and judgmental, where a photo or comment can be taken out of context and lambasted for its racist/homophobic/misogynist tone losing all the nuance of real life. These evils exist in the world and should be called out where they really exist. But we pillory people for them based on a mere impression. I have done it myself. I’m much more aware now that I’ve read, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed” by Jon Ronson.

  • tcheer4life

    The first I came across something like this was 20 years ago when a colleague, a business ed teacher, shared that he only read books by male authors. I guessed that he was trying to avoid “chick lit.” I would avoid “chick lit” too.
    Where I work now, a fellow worker and female shared that she only reads books by female authors.
    In both cases I tried to suggest books that opposed their opinions. I believe those were futile attempts.
    I’m sorry to hear of anyone limiting reading. One of the joys of being a member of a book club is opening oneself to books that would escape me.

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