In February 2005 I found myself on crutches having broken my foot playing football and tentatively inching my way across snowy pavements in Leeds, heading to a pub to meet some people who I’d never met before. This would be the first meeting of the Boys Book Club and little did I realise at the time the huge positive part the club and the people in it would play in my life. I tend to be with Groucho Marx when it comes to clubs, not wanting to join any that would have me as a member, and I’d never given any serious thought to joining a book club. Yes I read a lot but I enjoyed deciding what book I was going to read next and never felt the need to discuss that with anyone else, good reads would be recommended, bad ones discarded and usually not even finished. Stepping into a book club might change all this but I guess the stars aligned at the right moment and I thought what the hell I can always leave if I don’t enjoy it. The fact that as we approach our 8th year I still enjoy it every bit as much as the first meeting tells a lot.
At that first meeting it was clear from the off that we’d all be drawn there to discuss a book and that was what was going to take precedence, who we were and what we did for a living were very much secondary issues. This was important for me as I detest it when I meet new people and the first question they ask is “what do you do?” as if it’s our only our jobs that define us, make us who we are, not all the other things that we do in life, our interests and passions and let’s be honest some people make judgements based on what job you do – they picture your life, income, class and attempt to place you in a nice little box marked binman, solicitor, teacher, marketing exec etc. Of course over the years we’ve discussed what we do but it’s not what drives or defines us, the book drives us and through the reading and discussion of the books and the themes contained within them we have learnt huge amounts about who we are as people and what it is that defines us.
The key to why we have all got so much out of the book club is I think rigour, the first rule of book club is Always Read the Book, which sounds simple but there are so many people in book clubs that I know where this does not happen. The fact that we all invest the time and effort required gives us a shared starting point and there have definitely been books over the years that have been hard to read and very hard to finish, some that if I was reading them outside of the book club I would have discarded after 50 pages or so but I’ve had to knuckle down and do the hard yards. This effort is then always rewarded by the discussion at the monthly meetings (second rule of book club, you must turn up to meetings and be prepared to discuss the book). The discussions are for me absolutely the key, each of us takes it in turn and without interruption can talk for as long as we which, which can sometimes be five minutes sometimes half an hour. After everyone has had their turn a wider discussion takes place on anything that’s been raised.
The best nights are usually those where the book has split opinion, there have been a few books where some have scored the book 0 and others 10 (we all score the books out of 10 then re-score after all the discussions) and these are generally better than those where we have all thought the book was fantastic. It’s in your own monologue where the magic of the book club comes alive, you have to decide what you thought and why you thought it, this over the years has opened up windows into who we are as people as you inevitably tend to draw on your own life experiences to illustrate what you thought about the book and how it made you feel. I don’t think there are many opportunities for a group of blokes to get together and do this and do it with such honesty. Great art they say holds up a mirror to the soul and this has become self evidence in our discussions over the years. We are all middle aged men and as a result have been through many of the ups and downs that life throws our way, losing jobs, relationship breakdown, death as well of course huge highs and through all this the monthly discussion takes place, good wine drunk, fierce exchanges of view sometimes take place and deep long lasting friendships formed.
We’ve gone through some changes of personnel over the years and have just got a couple of newbies join up but each time we make a change the dynamic may shift as each person brings their own personality and experience to the table but the rules of the club remain the same. Read the book, turn up and express your view. We’ve also had a go at doing some of our own writing which has been rewarding and daunting in equal measure as well as all going abroad for a weekend each year taking in Palma, Valencia, Malaga, Madrid, Rome and Nice as well as donning wetsuits for surfing in the North Sea in January !
Our next meeting takes place next Friday where we will be discussing The Prince by Machiavelli as well as looking back over 2013 to decide on our book of the year, which will be tough as it’s been a good year. I was doing a look back at all we’ve read, which was the catalyst for this post and realised we’ve read 99 books over the years and I like the thought that the first book we choose this year will be our 100th. I think that I’ll do a little post at the end of each year with the books that we’ve read during the year but below are all the books we’ve read so far. I think we’ve covered a reasonable cross section of authors and genres but if you’ve got some ideas on what we should read next, authors or genres we are missing please leave a comment. Long live the Boys Book Club and all who read in it !