Addicted to novelty since 2001

Why is the Book Club a Female Institution?

I’ve never belonged to a book club. Every book club that I’ve every heard of has consisted only of women. If you do a Google image search for book club, you’ll find that all of the adult group shots are women-only. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but male book clubbers seem to be a tiny minority. I’m not declaring some secret feminist conspiracy here or anything, but it’s interesting to me that men never seem to participate.

I found this brief history of book clubs, but it doesn’t examine the gender trend:

Book discussions are as old as books themselves, and certainly became more frequent with the invention of the printing press around 1455. The literary salons of Paris helped shape the cultural scene of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Encyclopedia Americana defined them as “fashionable assemblage(s), generally of literary, artistic, and political figures, held regularly in a private home. ” The hostesses were often authors in their own right, like Mlle. de Scudery (1607-1701), Mme. Francoise Scarron (1635-1719) , and Mme. de Stael (1766-1817).

Clearly women read more books than men, and they read more fiction (not a prerequisite for a book club, but I’ve never heard of a non-fiction book being discussed at one). Oprah and her mostly-female audience have probably reinforced this trend. The book club seems to be playing some important role in our culture, but I’m not sure what it is.

In truth, I’m all for single-gender organizations. I think men and women ought to have places they can go where they only interact with others of their gender. Throughout human history we’ve had these places, so why are we denying them now? Admittedly, history has been biased towards groups of men, so perhaps the book club is an equalizing factor.

Men, do you belong to a book club? Have you ever? I read lots of books, and I wouldn’t mind discussing them in a semi-organized fashion. I could try to find a club that would take me, but I fear that I might not care for their choice of books. Maybe us Y-chromosomers need to start a club of our own?

7 Responses to “Why is the Book Club a Female Institution?”

  1. Rick

    I participated in some “reading groups” during college. I don’t know if they qualify as book clubs. A bunch of people I knew would pick out a philosophy work and meet regularly discussing it as we read through it. It was actually pretty male dominated with only a few female members.

    If that doesn’t count as a book club, then no, I haven’t ever been in a book club.

  2. Kev

    Funny you should post this today.
    The Vancouver Public Library has just created a “Men with Books” group that will start this Saturday at their Downtown location. The reading list looks pretty good… First book is “Fight Club” by Chuck Palahniuk. Some of the other selections are Money by Martin Amis and MicroSerfs by Douglas Coupland.
    Full list is here
    http://www.vpl.ca/branches/LibrarySquare/prl/menwithbooks.html

    Not sure about some of the titles but I figure I will give it a shot.

  3. Derek

    I don’t know how typical I am, but for me reading books is usually a delightfully solitary endeavour. It’s true that, like many men (and boys), I prefer non-fiction to fiction. And even then, I don’t usually discuss them much with anyone—the pleasure comes in my own enjoyment of the work.

    My social outlets are different. I think for many men that is so, and involves talking about other things, especially if it is with other men: sports, web design, mountain biking, cars, and women, for instance.

    Moreover, once I’ve finished a book, rather than talk about it, I’d rather go read another book.

  4. alexis

    I’ve often wondered this myself. I do know of one man who belonged to a mixed gender book club. I think he was one of the few men in the club, but his wife and some of their friends were also in the club.

    I know a lot of writers, and they tend to read a lot. I think some of my writer friends have belonged to sci-fi reading groups, and I belonged to one writing group that discusses books a lot as well.

    There’s a great “Malcolm in the Middle” episode where Lois joins a book club. It turns out that the whole point of the club is just to get together, bitch and drink. It’s a hilarious episode.

  5. Bish

    I disagree with Derek, but only because I love talkign abotu anything entertaining I’ve seen. I quote movies, books (page 440 of THHGTTG has some lovely poetry) whatever. Either my friends have read/heard/seen the same thing and we reminisce about the shared experience, or else there’s a chance I can steer them onto something they may enjoy, if they respond positively.

    The fluffier books I get, like Ludlums, I don’t even mind giving away or trading when I’m done — although I’m sure the MPAA/RIAA/BVAA will eventually legislate against that.

    – ..

  6. Lovewine

    I’ve often wondered about the all female book club thing. At one time my girlfriend joined a local club and said that it was mainly about drinking and gossiping than about reading and discussing certain books. There are so many great reads; sometimes its nice to hear other people’s perspectives.

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