Real Men Read Books
I was told men don't like to read. Men aren't very good at getting together unless it involves competition, bloodshed, or gambling spoils. Men don't do book groups.
So I joined a women's book group.
It was great. The women read the books. They got together monthly. They talked about feelings and had deep discussions.
There was only one problem—they didn't always get around to actually discussing the book.
That's when I came up with Men Who Pause.
I would prove the world wrong. Men, I knew, really did long to come together in ways that didn't require icepacks, peace treaties, or taxidermy. They could gather, using literature to stimulate good conversation.
Each month we would choose a theme with a corresponding book and movie. We would meet and talk about ideas which the book and movie inspired. Men are good at what the child psychologists call parallel play—two little boys can't jump in a sandbox and have a heart-to-heart, but give them a toy truck, a couple of sticks, and some dirt and they know exactly what to do.
No one knew what to expect. The first film was Grizzly Man and the book was Into the Wild. The theme amounted to: "If you make a really bad decision out in nature, you will probably have an unfortunate experience at one of two ends of the food chain." Discussion questions were assigned. One member spoke for many, smirking as he dismissed these stories about "two idiots who had it coming."
Each month, it got a little better—the discussions were deeper and livelier. There was only one small problem: Unlike the women, our members seldom read the book.
We tried "dumbing down" the curriculum; read one chapter, use Cliffs Notes, just read the dust jacket. Some showed up with brand new books, then offered strong opinions, quoting liberally from the first three pages. Leadership was questioned; rotating leadership was instituted. It appeared there might be torn rotator cuffs and mayhem after all.
Then came the successes. A former nonreader admitted that he had now become a book-finisher. During a Jack Kerouac discussion at a San Francisco bar, we were told by young hip women that it was cool to see old guys talking about books. A stranger at a restaurant, overhearing our discussion of The Catcher in the Rye, offered a fifteen-minute monologue about a guy he once knew named Holden.
Then last summer, we planned a campout and only three of us showed up. After dinner, we sat around the campfire and Ashwin cautiously pulled a never-before-shared manuscript from his backpack. He proceeded to read incredibly personal, painful stories that he'd written about his childhood in India. Patrick and I sat in the dark and listened in awe.
We still have a lot to learn about how to do this whole book group discussion thing. But I'm confident that pages, chapters, and someday, entire books will be read. And discussed.
–Mark Krahling posts his stories and essays on his blog, Pauseforpurpose.com,where both reading and discussion are strongly encouraged.