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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

California Dream

imageI had the rare opportunity this past weekend to jet out of frozen New England and into what felt like heaven on earth. When I landed at Palm Springs International Airport, those first few inhalations of balmy desert air laced with hints of citrus seemed simply divine.

My college friend Michele had invited me, along with our friends Lisa and Zoe, to share a mini-reunion weekend at her mother’s spectacular PS vacation home. Despite living in four far-flung cities and not meeting regularly in decades, the four of us immediately resumed the comfortable dialogue that began when we met 27 years ago as girls. The lively conversations swirled for four days. Even after the painful moment on Sunday when we separated at the airport bound for home, the text messages with inside jokes continued to rage on our cell phones until liftoff and then resumed upon arrival.

When I returned home and my husband asked what we had talked about all weekend, I answered the usual—catching up on our families, careers, daily lives, etc. Collectively, the four of us are moms to 11 children ranging in age from 4 to 15. Each child had merited some airtime during the weekend, as did the fathers.

But I also shared with my husband how we’d devoted a surprisingly large chunk of time to discussing our reading habits and book recommendations. Three of us are in book groups; one is not.

Lounging on the patio in decadent lounge chairs, Lisa had tutored us on the functionality of the Goodreads app. On Sunday night as I waited alone at the gate for my flight to board, Michele had asked the three of us via text from the airport bookstore what she should purchase for the flight home. When she couldn’t find the perfect selection, Zoe texted that she should download something on her iPad.

I guess it shouldn’t be terribly shocking that a group of old friends who also happen to be voracious readers should be spending so much time discussing books during a cherished weekend together. After all, learning and intellectual discussion were woven deeply into the fabric of our enduring friendship when we met all those years ago as undergrads at Northwestern.

Here are five works of fiction that I’ve added to my to-read list after this weekend (in no particular order): Bloodlines by Neville Frankel, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Phillip Sendker, The Husband’s Secret by Lian Moriarty, The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom, and Hush by Eishes Chayil.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Bring on Your Recommended Lists!

One thing I hope to accomplish with this blog is to gather and share book recommendations from people who enjoy reading.

Personally, I find recommendations to be most meaningful when I know a little something about the person doing the recommending. People read for their own reasons, with their unique tastes and attitudes having a major impact on whether they appreciate any given book. Learning about a reader often helps me assess the likelihood of my sharing an opinion with that person about a book before investing precious reading hours based on the recommendation.

With this in mind, I plan to interview a variety of readers in the coming months to learn about how they read (socially—i.e., with a group—or not) and what favorites they would recommend in terms of fiction and non-fiction to general reading audiences. I will share a little bit of background about their reading lives and explain why they’ve made their picks.

Stay tuned for some great ideas for your bookshelves! Feel free to get in touch if you/your group would like to be profiled or if you have recommendations to share.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why I Like Reading with a Group

Before I tried it, I didn’t think I’d like reading with a group. I like managing my own time frame and picking my own books. Enjoyment is key for me, and I never want to feel rushed or obligated to read books that seem unappealing to me. I also get irritated when I’m forced to listen to blowhards sound off about their opinions!

Nonetheless, about 15 years ago I agreed to be in my first bookgroup. I had just re-entered the working world following grad school, and I was longing for the days of exchanging ideas with friends and colleagues. I think I saw that book group as a way of reliving some of the intellectual connection I was missing in my daily grind.

Over time, I have found that I love reading with a group and here are some reasons why:

  1. The companionship I’ve experienced in my group has been extremely refreshing (no blowhards!). Reading together has given us countless opportunities to discuss things beyond the usual menu of chitchat.
  2. Through our book-related explorations, I often come away with a deeper understanding of my reading than I would’ve found without my companions. When I devote the hours necessary to plow through a book, it’s great to be able to squeeze as much out of it as possible.
  3. I have read and thoroughly enjoyed books that I never would’ve chosen for myself, expanding my horizons in the process. In the past year alone, I have appreciated, enjoyed and learned from two novels revolving around a backdrop of genocide: The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian and In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. If left to my own devices, I am quite certain I would’ve missed out on those two novels–each of which I enjoyed for different reasons but both of which taught me some valuable history lessons.
  4. As a writer, I need to read as much as possible to continue developing my style and my skills. Truthfully, it can be tough to fit a variety of full-length books into the schedule and reading with a group forces me to increase my productivity.

What are your thoughts on reading with a group?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My First Post

I’ve always loved to read great books, particularly fiction. As a pretty social person, I’ve found that my reading life has been enhanced greatly by participating in several book groups—the most recent one lasting nearly nine years. My reading buddies and I have read close to 100 books together during that period.

In the past year or so, I’ve noticed that our book group has begun struggling to agree on and enjoy our book selections. I think this is partly due to the fact that we happen to be in a very busy phase of life. We are all 40-something women, with multiple children and at least-part time jobs. At the end of each day, we are exhausted from running our kids around and overseeing our households. Eking out reading time is not easy. Harder still is getting our schedules in sync to arrange our meetings. Our book selections are critical. We have zero interest in books that turn out to be total duds, and we are choosing far too many of those lately.

Recently I read this piece in Sunday’s New York Times about how the sweeping changes in the publishing industry have affected readers. The article resonated with me on several levels.

First, as a freelance writer, I know all too well the ways that the industry has affected my own professional career path. Second, I considered the possibility that perhaps those new publishing industry realities really have weighed on our ability to find excellent books.

I decided to start a community of reading groups, and solo readers, who might benefit from input about their reading selections from a wide range of devoted readers. Right now, I’m not sure exactly how this idea will shake out, but I’m going to start with this blog. It will all stay free and focused on reading for discussion. Stay tuned to see what happens!

What would you like to see in this space?

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized