MINNEAPOLIS — The book club's first reading choice "triggered something that all of us had to get off our chests," said a founding member.
"We're all going through a cycle of life where there's a lot of vulnerability," said another. "This is a way for me to come to a group and be vulnerable."
Added the first member: "I think the whole book club is a pretext for us talking about our lives."
Typical touchy-feely book-club talk, except for one tiny detail. The members are named Jon and Naveen, and their club is an entirely male province, a fraternal order with no girls allowed, not even tangentially.
"One of our rules is that we don't read books that our wives suggest," said
Erickson's club, founded by
In fact, the two men's book groups might be more different from each other than they are from similar women's clubs.
The Bellaimey bunch shares pretty much everything. "We talk about politics, our families and movies. In August we don't read a book; we go to a movie," said Bellaimey. "We go to each other's weddings, to each other's kids' bar mitzvahs, and the funerals of loved ones. We get together once a year with spouses and sometimes kids.
"During the early years when the 'Harry Potter' books came out, we had kids of Potter age, and we would have a potluck for us and our families. We let the kids discuss the books, and the kids remember that very fondly."
Their first meetings also could not have been more different. Haley's group forged an immediate bond despite not knowing one another well. In discussing their first book,
That theme has recurred, even persisted. "I didn't know that so many great authors wrote about my father and me," Klaverkamp said.
Bellaimey's crew bonded in an entirely different way, over how much they disliked their first book,
"It actually has become an ongoing joke, much to the dismay of the person who suggested it," he said. "We'll be talking about a book that some people don't like, and we'll say, 'Is that book as bad as "The Sportswriter"? Is the plot as predictable and dispiriting and hopeless as "The Sportswriter"?' And the answer is always no."
The story lines and characters actually do consume the majority of the guys' time when they gather, but just barely.
"We do talk about plot and whether the narrative works," Bellaimey said, "but it usually comes back to our own experience, depending on what the book is about: death or alienation or love."
Pretty heavy stuff, but hey, it's a lot cheaper than professional therapy.
"There are times we go straight from the book to a psychiatrist's couch," said Sharma.
Added Haley: "Some men might talk about this kind of stuff while back-yard grilling or working on a car. I'm more comfortable doing that over a book."