Beef & Books

Boys often make friends at school and on the sports fields. But as a female, I see through my husband’s eyes that finding and enjoying male friendships can get a little tricky to navigate in adulthood.

Along those lines, a guy named Phil Busse—who is the executive director of the Media Institute for Social Change and managing editor of an alternative weekly in Portland, Ore.—had the sense that male friendship should involve something beyond “just going out to bars or watching football and drinking beer.”

Phil decided about eight years ago to invite five of his friends to form a book group focused on reading books that would help them “become better men.” Each of the original guys invited one friend and the Beef & Books concept was born.

From the time they read their first book The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux, Busse says he knew that this group would evolve into a profound shared experience: “Right off the bat, one of the guys asked how many of us in the room still had their fathers, and this turned into an incredible discussion. It was serious, mature and meaningful.”

Once a month, the group convenes over a dinner that is usually orchestrated to coincide with some theme involving the book. For example, the guys met at an Indian restaurant during the month when they read White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Busse says one of their most memorable experiences came when they read The Brothers K by David James Duncan. This lengthy novel is set in Oregon in the 1950s, so the Beef & Books men set off in canoes last summer on a camping adventure to see some of the sites described in the story.

Last year, after reading The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan Koerner, the group sponsored a reading by the author. Because they opened they event to the public, spouses were permitted to attend in a rare relaxation of the rules.

In the years since they have been meeting, the group has read more than 150 books together. Some members have married and several become parents. “Even though reading is such a solitary activity, there is this nice connection when you know that these other guys are sharing the experience with you,” Busse says.

Other Beef & Books selections have included JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, which they enjoyed revisiting as adults, Swamplandia! by Karen Russell and The Circle by Dave Eggers.

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