How One Group of Men Does A Good Book Club. And the Books They’ve Liked Best. By Dish Stanley

How One Group of Men Does A Good Book Club. And the Books They’ve Liked Best. By Dish Stanley

. 5 min read

There’s been a lot of attention the last few years on men, loneliness and suicide rates, particularly for those in midlife and beyond. In one of our first Crush Letters I wrote about that in Don’t Touch My Hat: Men, Friendship & Loneliness. When I spend time with male friends, I always ask them to tell me about the ways they form and maintain bonds with other men. My friend David told me about his Book Club, comprised of eight “semi-retired” men who have been meeting monthly through the winter months for five years.

I started off by asking David a threshold question. “How many of the guys actually show up?” His response:

All eight, every time. Nobody misses it. In fact, the joke is that everybody sends their wives the schedule when it comes out and the wives know that if there’s a conflict, we aren’t missing the book club.”

With that kind of turn-out, I figured I’d dig deeper with David to get you, dearest Crush Readers, the details.

Q: David, tell me the basics. How many men, how often do you meet and how long have you been meeting?

A: We’ve done it for five winters, so we’ll be starting our sixth year soon. We all spend winters in the south, but most go north for the summer so we’re a “six months out of the year” book club. The same eight guys have been in the group since the beginning. We meet once a month starting in January and everyone attends.

Q: How did you get started?

A: Well, here’s the thing. The guy that got us going, Jim, is really the key. He is highly respected and well-liked. Very intelligent, with strong people and management skills. He hand-selected everyone in the group, it’s not like we all knew each other going in. But what we all knew is that he is a guy who would put together a top-notch group, whose thoughts you’d want to hear and who would be civil. He is the undisputed group leader, in charge of “running the meetings,” so to speak.

Q: Tell me more about him and how he runs the group.

A: He ran one of the country’s largest financial institutions. Started out in sales. As I said, strong people skills, including the fact that he reads people really well. So he would know who is a good conversationalist, has something to offer, knows how to engage in respectful discourse, is not going to grandstand or pontificate or interrupt. I knew it would be a room full of what I’ll call “substantive” people but it wouldn’t be a room full of pompous guys. I knew that if he liked them and wanted them as part of the group, they’d be worthwhile knowing. I assume that’s what everyone thought.

To be clear, I have friends Jim knows well and it really bugs them that they didn’t get invited into the group. From the start when somebody asked what to do if anyone asks about joining, Jim says tell them “it’s full.” “Or better yet, say, ‘Oh. I didn’t realize you knew how to read.’” I have respect for that because Jim is not a waffler and he doesn’t mind taking the heat if it comes back to him. He isn’t going to get a larger room, dilute the energy, etc. He wants things to be quality. Most of the guys who I know he knows but didn’t ask are smart, but they‘d be disruptive. They’d need to dominate the conversation, be the smartest guy in the room, that kind of thing. Jim knew what he was doing. A guy in my golf foursome bugged the shit out of me for three years over how he’s not in the book group. “How can I get in?” He kept saying. ”You can’t,” I say, “It’s full.”

Before the first meeting of the year Jim sends around the dates for the year. At the first meeting, he comes with a preliminary list of books and we all come with suggestions. We also discuss whatever our “summer selection” was. This summer it was “Our Crowd” By Stephen Birmingham. After the meeting he compiles the full list of books under consideration with title, author and respective Amazon ratings. Sends it around for us to each consider or research, then we discuss and vote at the second meeting, come up with the year’s list.

Q: What genre(s) do you read?

A: We only read nonfiction. Primarily histories and biographies. If we had a “sweet spot” it would be WWII and U.S. Presidents, but we are not confined to that. We’ve read books on major expeditions, lots of finance-related biographies and books about current topics in society, like The Diversity Delusion.

Q: What do you enjoy so much about the meetings? What happens there?

A: Most guys get to the bar early. We start the meeting in the dining room, on time. We almost always begin by talking about politics or news or the markets. After a while we get to the book. It’s a great conversation. A group of interesting guys who are civil. Not that we’re not sharing impolitic jokes, that’s for sure.  

Q: What books has your group liked best over the years?

A: The Forgotten 500: The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the Greatest Rescue Mission of World War II By Gregory A. Freeman

The Game. Harvard, Yale and America in 1968 By George Howe Colt

Citizens of London By Lynne Olson 

Bad Blood By John Carreyrou

Red Notice By Bill Browder

Q: Logistics: Where do you meet? Who pays?

A: A private room at Jim’s golf club. Those of us who are also members just pay our respective shares, and the guys who aren’t members settle up with Jim somehow over time but I don’t know how that gets handled.

Q: So the key to the group’s success is, I take it, Jim?

A: Well the key is the selection of guys and that’s Jim. Jim has what you’d call “standing,” and I think that’s what got a lot of good guys to say yes. But what makes it great as an experience is that the guys are great, the discussions - about books or whatever, are great. Jim picked well. He excels at reading people. And that’s why we actually enjoy it and each other.

If you love me as much as I love you (and I really do love you!), then please help me grow by forwarding this {love} Letter to a friend!  And I'd love to have you join us on instagram.


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