Monday, May 17, 2004

Who reads the book of love?
Book group for singles has everything but the guys
By Ron Fletcher, [Boston] Globe Correspondent | May 16, 2004

Single readers with no interest in being left on a shelf gathered on a recent weeknight at Village Books to make a solitary pleasure social.

"A customer had heard about a book club we were sponsoring that was made up entirely of men," said Annie Bauman, the co-owner of the store. "She said she wanted in.

"It turned out that that club was a closed one -- and made up of married men. So, we started talking about a club for singles. The response was overwhelming. Here we are."

Thirty- and forty-somethings browsed among the book-lined walls, enjoying red wine, cheese, and the softly playing music of the English duo Everything But the Girl. The tune was tinged with irony, though, when the 7 p.m. start time ticked by and the shop filled with everyone but the guys.

But Bauman had anticipated what she called "a slanted ratio" and had come up with a proposal: a $5 store gift certificate for any woman who brought along a male friend.

"It's common practice to offer an incentive when seeking some sort of gender balance," said Bauman. "One customer told me if she had a guy to bring then she wouldn't be here."

Of the 30 book lovers who pre-registered for the event, about half made this May 5 opening night: 12 women and 3 guys, each arriving of his own volition.

Bauman assured the slanted ratio that there would be better gender balance at the next meeting.

"This night isn't so much about meeting someone else," said Bauman, a wife and mother-to-be, "but a way of expanding a network of single people, of people at a similar stage in their lives."

The single women took the news in stride. Asked to put a price on the value of male company, Janis Khorsi of Roslindale laughed.

"You might have to offer $25 to get a guy into a bookstore these days," said the Oregon native and WGBH employee.

Sporting nametags bearing the title of the last book they read, singles scanned the shelves, lauding one author and pooh-poohing another. A woman who had recently read "Le Divorce" chatted with a guy claiming to have read "Sophie's Choice."

Elsewhere women turned to women to joke about that rare species: the single male reader.

"I'm not surprised that it's mostly women," a recent reader of "I Don't Know How She Does It" told "Life of Pi." "My ex-husband didn't read. He did not read. I couldn't share anything with him. He was into TV. I could never again be with someone who doesn't want to read."

I wanted to tell her that men do read, but that many prefer to do so the same way George Thorogood took his drink and Henry David Thoreau took his walks: alone.

I wanted to tell her how after the opening game of my hockey season last fall, Chris Hobson, a teammate not above an on-ice donnybrook, pulled me aside at T's Pub and spoke in hushed tones.

"Hey, Ronnie Boy," began Hobby. "What do you think about starting a book club this year? We could invite the Crawdaddy. You know, just the three of us. You name the book."

I agreed sotto voce and told him I'd have a title for him by our next game. We clinked beer glasses.

The book club, alas, remained a "pints dream," despite the fact that each of us voiced good intentions and purchased Ian McEwan's "Atonement," a title I went on to read with another all-male book club: the roomful of high school juniors I teach.

"Fear of commitment" provides a convenient but facile explanation for why three guys couldn't orchestrate the reading and discussion of something that takes time, a novel.

Yet I don't imagine that the club would've happened had we chosen a short story -- or a haiku. Seems that informality and spontaneity trump A Plan when it comes to guys and books. Between hands in poker or while suiting up for a hockey tilt, guys have been known to mention an author's work, yet they seem to need the freedom to digress, to punctuate the serious with the trivial, talk of metaphors with talk of models.

But I digress. Back at the Village Books's cheese and crackers, one intrepid man's stock seemed to be plummeting as he extolled the virtues of a book on serial killers to an incredulous stranger.

Bauman unwittingly came to the rescue of that pair when she asked the group to listen to a talk on building the perfect book club. The advice eerily paralleled a successful relationship, with its lauding of chemistry, commitment, and communication.

"Be passionate, speak honestly," advised Bauman, "but come to the table capable of defending your emotions one way or another. That leads to discussion and that makes this thing work."

After the talk, Khorsi took the books-romance analogy a step further, describing her last date as "definitely non-fiction," someone she said she would title, "I, Narcissus."

"My last date had four pints in two hours," added Ms. Le Divorce, who declined to give her name. "It was like a date with Charles Bukowski -- without the poetry."

Ed Langley, one of the trinity of men -- and not a fan of serial killer prose -- was unaware of the going rate of his Y chromosome.

"Five dollars?" he said, with a laugh. "That's very undervalued."

By the exit, Khorsi bundled up for the cool evening. Despite the night's lack of knights, she remained optimistic about the next meeting. "You never know who will be there," she said. "Could be Mr. Right -- holding a book." / News / Local / Mass. / Who reads the book of love?

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