What is it about women and book groups?

BookClubTeaWhat is it about women and book groups?

I’ve belonged to my book group for ten years. As an author, I’ve visited many more–some that are run with as many regulations as the FDA and some that are as free-form as a Unitarian wedding. But they have one thing in common: they’re all made up of women. Middle-aged women.

Why do women gravitate to book groups?

I know plenty of men who like to read, but none who are in a book group. I even know men who like to talk, but none of them are in a book group either.

Women like to talk about people and relationships; men don’t. My husband once went out drinking with a friend who’d just broken up with his wife. When he came staggering home at 2AM, I jumped him with questions. What went wrong in their marriage? Was there a third party? Was Ed depressed? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know was all I got in reply. Finally I demanded, “Well, what on earth did you talk about?”

“Interest rates.”

Women, even Wall Street women, never go out with their friends and talk about interest rates. When we’re in our teens and twenties, we gather to dissect the signals emitted by the guys we’re dating, the guys we wish we were dating, and the guys who dumped us. In our thirties, we gather to discuss our bosses, our new husbands, and our new babies. But by the time we reach our forties, fifties and beyond, we’ve pretty much got the people we actually know figured out. Or, we’ve given up on figuring them out. What relationships are left to discuss? Fictional ones, of course!

Why did the mom in Room push her son away after the escape? How much did the father know in Defending Jacob? What made the wife in What Alice Forgot change so much? Did he or didn’t he in In the Lake of the Woods? Most of all, what would we ourselves do in those situations?

As we move through life, so many of our friendships are formed by proximity: college dorm-mates, work colleagues, neighbors, parents of our children’s friends. I value those friendships, but my book group friends are special. We come together every month (and we never miss) to escape the people and problems we really know in favor of people who’ve come to life on the pages of the books we read. Husbands and children sometimes dart through the meeting, but they quickly scurry away. This is not their time. After a few “how have you beens?” we dive in and discuss, and our opinions of fictional characters are never rejected as interfering and judgmental and clueless. We disagree, but we never fight. We never tune one another out.

Book group—better than life. Men don’t know what they’re missing.

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7 Responses to What is it about women and book groups?

  1. Camille Minichino April 25, 2014 at 1:06 am #

    Have you been spying on me and my book groups, Susan? And how do you know my husband and his friends so well?

    I love my women friends, in groups and not, and you’ve helped explain why.

  2. Susan April 25, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    I confess, I have (the brownies you served at your last meeting looked yummy!). And my husband says to tell your husband interest rates look flat for the foreseeable future. 🙂

  3. John Bohnert April 25, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    The owner of a local bookstore begged me, a male crime fiction lover, to join her book club at the store. I told her that I wasn’t interested. If I joined I would have to take notes on the book the group selected. Otherwise I wouldn’t recall much from what I read. I read crime fiction for pleasure not to do book reports. Also, I wouldn’t want to read some book the group selected if it didn’t appeal to me. That would take all the fun out of reading.

  4. Judith Arnold April 25, 2014 at 11:32 am #

    I’m in an on-line book group–we live all around the country and we discuss our books via email. I guess those of us who need brownies have to bring their own to the computer. But I can sure relate to everything you’ve said about book groups, and the joy of discussing literature and relationships with my book-loving sisters.

  5. Joanna Campbell Slan April 25, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Judith, should we propose mandatory brownies for the next book? I’m down with that!

    Susan, I would just add that because we’re authors, we also ask, “Would I have written that book that way?” and sometimes the answer is highly educational.

  6. Susan April 25, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    Yes, the others in my book group are “civilians”, and I have to be careful not to ruin a book they’re enjoying with excessive carping about technical flaws :).

  7. Mary Hawkes April 26, 2014 at 6:28 pm #

    John, I think your response supported what Susan said about men not getting it. I don’t feel that my book groups are about “doing book reports.” And if I don’t like the book, I stop reading and report to the group the reasons I didn’t care for it.

    There’s a lot more to it than just analyzing the book or the writing, It’s the whole package–the social atmosphere, sharing of opinions………..and of course brownies.