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Book Club for Dudes: California Seething [BOOK WEEK]

The rantings of a non-driving theatre professional living in altogether the wrong city

Let’s get one thing straight right now, I’m not a Woman trapped in a Man’s body. I’m not even a Particularly Well Groomed Man trapped in the body of a Slovenly Oaf. I am simply as I appear — an oversize sweaty mascot to boorish masculinity. Like Nebraska is to corn, New York City is to roaches and China is to Chinese people so am I to body hair — it’s fucking everywhere. A desegregationist through and through, I make no effort to separate the hair on my head, the hair on my neck and the hair on my back- so my body hair flows like the mighty Yangtzee from the snowy bald spot on top of Mt. Eric down the ravine of my spine to the waterfall of fuzz cresting over the crack of my ass.

Don’t misunderstand — I’m quite familiar with the ways of womankind. I have lived with my wife for the last 12+ years and was raised with two older sisters. My preteen years were spent in a pit of femininity held down by scalding hot curling irons and towering canisters of explosive hair product while a razor sharp pendulum of wildly swinging emotions came closer and closer to slicing my head off (both of them) shrieking “I hate mother nature” every time it passed by and the music of ABBA throbbed endlessly on in the background. Sure, AIDS may have been scary to some in the 80s, but I was way more concerned with the perils of Toxic Shock Syndrome and PMS. My household was actually featured in a famous study in the Harvard Review of Medicine – perhaps you heard of it- “PMS: The Really, Really, Really, Really NOT Silent Killer.”

Despite the sheer terror, it was a very educational upbringing- I learned to keep the toilet seat down or pay dearly (don’t ask), which boyfriends to lie to on the phone, how to pass the sex quiz in Seventeen, and why Jack Wagner is not only a dreamboat but also a musical genius (Stamos is a HACK!).

My sisters tried to provide me with a feminizing and civilizing influence. They tried to get me to pop the collar, ditch the sweat pants, shave the pornstache — they even cut my hair on one occasion that we will never, ever speak of again. All their efforts were in vain, though; I am now and always have been firmly fixed in my dudeness. Sure, there were some Grand Guignol efforts at dressing in drag when I was in college, but that was back in the Gay 90s — hell, if Wesley Snipes was wearing a dress, I can hardly be blamed for attending (planning) a couple of drag parties myself. Fortunately, this was before the era off  Facebook and YouTube and thus, all evidence of this grotesquery is lost to history (NOTE TO OLD FRIENDS: This is NOT  a dare. Put the photo album and the scanner DOWN.)

When you come right down to it, what isn’t there to love about being a man? I never have to wear stockings and high-heels to a job interview; no matter how flabby my man boobs get, I don’t have to strap them down with a Manzere (or Bro); if I dare wear short shorts, I don’t have to Nair for short shorts; and the only things stopping me from getting up right now and taking a piss in my backyard are Common Decency and Decorum (yeah, good luck with that one, boys. Now, if you’ll excuse me…) Fuck you, Flower Drum Song, I Enjoy Being a DUDE!

Still, I’m pretty jealous that women get to have Book Clubs and I don’t.

Don’t misunderstand, I think it’s great for women to read fiction- especially high quality, erudite, well written novels like 32 Candles, available in paperback next week (I feel dirty.)  I blame Oprah for the feminization of literature. Not that I’m hating on Oprah — after all, someone had to stop all those unemployed women from killing themselves every weekday at 4 all those years (WARNING: Don’t try to watch House Hunters as a substitute, all you’ll learn is that your ceiling is too low to hang yourself properly and you’re better off gassing yourself in your inadequate garage. Try Hoarders instead.) The problem is that Oprah inspired a generation of women to read books together and form book clubs and, as a result, the male fiction lover was forced to hide his secret shame in the bathroom like so much Japanese school girl bondage porn.

Well, I say no more! It’s time for men to proudly reclaim their role as consumers of fiction. It’s time to take literature out of the toilet stalls and into the restaurants of Los Angeles as we men meet proudly to discuss themes and characters without the shame of being considered a bunch of pussies. The time has come for The Book Club for Men.

But how to go about making this idea a reality? For women it’s easy (WARNING: Misogynist Stereotypes Ahead) just call up a bunch of friends, read Eat Pray Love, meet up at Tender Greens, talk about the book for ten minutes and spend the rest of the time talking shit about the person who didn’t show up to the meeting, complaining about how much they hate their jobs and exchanging horror stories about all the stupid things that husbands, children and dogs did recently. For men, though it’s a bit more complicated.

Step 1: Find A Bunch of Dudes to Join

There are questions that guys typically ask each other. These include: Hey, can you get me another beer while you’re up? Did you see the game last night? What’s LeBron’s damn problem, anyways? Can you get me another beer while you’re up? Did you see that ass? Would you tap that ass? Can you get me another beer while you’re up? Who would win a fight between Mike Tyson at his prime and Spiderman? Anyone want to do shots?

On the other hand, there are questions that guys never ask each other: Do I look fat in that? Does that red spot on my ass look bigger to you? Where did you get that adorable top? Do you want to go to the Opera? How would you like to join my bookclub?

So where would I go to find like minded men? Men who wouldn’t respond to my inquiry about joining a bookclub as though I was inviting them to a slumber party so we could put lipstick on each other, make friendship bracelets and practice kissing on our hands and pretending they are Justin Bieber (or Jack Wagner. Grrrrrr.) As I was hemming and hawing about this, I got the following email from fellow Fierce and Nerdy blogger, Ryan Dixon:

“I have an extra ticket to see The Met’s Live in HD broadcast of John Adams’ NIXON IN CHINA next Saturday @ 10am at the Century City AMC. Do you want to come along?”

At that point, I knew I had found my book-club soul mate. If he was secure enough in his masculinity to make that offer, I could certainly invite him to join my book club. Ryan dug up the rest of the book club members — a list which is disturbingly similar to the roster of  male bloggers on FaN. I should have known that the best way to find a bunch of dudes for a book club was to recruit the male writers from a Nerd Girl Blog*. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would have said “No shit, Sherlock.” (That’s literary, bitch!)

Step 2: Pick a book

This really shouldn’t be that hard considering the overwhelming percentage of books published throughout human history that have been written by men. Still, we had to follow some basic guidelines:

  1. No Oprah. If she liked it, we can’t read it. No arguments. No exceptions. Sorry Elie Wiesel. Fuck you William Faulkner. Eat shit and die Charles Dickens. Just say “O No!”
  2. Fiction Only. No Book of Basketball. No Wit and Wisdom of Jeremy Clarkson, And, no Penthouse Forum letters are not considered fiction. Sorry.
  3. No Fantasy. No Graphic Novels. Having a book club is dorky enough.
  4. No Doomed Love- unless it’s doomed by Zombies.

We chose Arthur Phillips’ new book The Tragedy of Arthur. I would love to share all sorts of trenchant and brilliant insights next week, but since the book-club meeting isn’t actually until next Wednesday, I haven’t read it yet.

Step 3: Find a location

I know what you’re thinking — Hooters, Spearmint Rhino, Skin. Well, we didn’t choose any of these. We all joked about it, we all wanted to, but when it came right down to it, we were all just a little too chicken shit to seriously suggest it. As a result, we’re going to City Tavern in Culver City where you can pour your own beer via an elaborate system of taps at the tables (I guess nobody told them about pitchers.) Maybe for the next meeting we’ll take advantage of the fabulous free lunch buffet at Skin or the delicious wings at Hooters – or maybe we’ll just go for the half-naked women.

Step 4: Competition

Book Club Drinking Game: Let’s face it, what fun is having a meaningful conversation about literature if we can’t get hammered? Anyone who says the following words has to take a drink:

  • Inspirational
  • Devastating
  • Heart Breaking
  • Allegory
  • Fable
  • Microcosm
  • Metaphor
  • Poignant
  • Symbolism
  • Irony
  • Social commentary
  • Scathing
  • American dream
  • Common man
  • Existential
  • Legacy
  • Scathing
  • Shakespearean
  • Human Condition (two drinks for this one.)

If you mention David Foster Wallace, you have to finish your drink. If you mention James Joyce, you have to finish your drink, but everyone gets to spit in it first.

Two for Quoting: If you refer to the New Yorker or New York Review of Books, the person to your left gets to punch you on the arm twice as hard as they can.

Pull my Sontag: Make an obscure reference to renowned literary critic Susan Sontag and then fart as loudly as possible.

Step 5: Picking the Next Book

I believe the typical way this is done is that club members take turns picking books and each person gets a chance. While this is very democratic and participatory, it lacks the suspense or over the top excitement of an arm-wrestling tournament. I realize this means I probably will never pick a book, but maybe it’ll encourage me to go to the gym so I can force all of the goyim in this club to read Phillip Roth. Talk about a scathing indictment of the American dream. It’s a truly heartbreaking allegory for the existential emptiness of the human condition, and it sure as hell ain’t inspirational.

Hopefully, other book loving men will be inspired by our groundbreaking work and form book clubs of their own. After all, it’s up to us to liberate literary discourse from the delicate world of chardonnay and salads and dunk it back in sloppy pools of beer and burger grease where it belongs. See you at Hooters!

*Editor’s Note – Though Fierce and Nerdy started off as a blog written mostly, by nerdy women (not girls) thanks to Ryan Dixon‘s aggressive male integration efforts, it is now 50/50, so really we’re one of the few (perhaps the only?) nerd blogs with a staff reflective of American gender ratios. I’ve talked about this before, but am two lazy to look the post up, so this note will have to suffice.

Also, click on the book cover to buy THE TRAGEDY OF ARTHUR at Amazon.

featured image credit (that’s not Eric Sims, btw): babasu