Why So Few Men Join Book Groups
Posted by: Ted Balcom
Whenever book group leaders get together to chat, eventually the same perplexing question arises, “What can be done to get men (or more men) to join our groups?” After over 30 years of leading book groups, I can state with great conviction that there are no new answers.
Here are the time-honored techniques that seem to work:
Choose books to discuss that interest men. That means, broadly speaking, books about sports, politics, history, crime, and making money. Nonfiction seems to draw better than fiction. And for the most part, books written by men — although a title like Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand, might be the rare exception. The subtitle reveals the appeal: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption. That could bring the boys in — even if it was penned by a female.
Why are men such reluctant participants, even when you are offering to discuss the type of books that seem tailor-made to suit them? Here’s what I’ve learned, both from observation and from talking to other men: guys generally do not like to share their feelings in public, especially in the presence of a group composed mostly of members of the opposite sex; also, they aren’t greatly interested in minutely analyzing character and motivation, unless they happen to have a degree in psychology and have made this activity their life’s work; and finally, they aren’t comfortable in situations where they are outnumbered by ladies and where the leader of the group — that formidable person in charge — is (Gadzooks!) a woman.
So if the leader is a man. perhaps you can get more men involved. And it’s also an advantage if the would-be male participant knows the leader outside of the book group, in some other context — somehow, this promotes trust. If a woman who is in the group is able to persuade her husband to read the book and come to the discussion with her, the guy’s comfort level may be raised. If the wife has a friend who can get her husband to come along as well, that’s another plus; going into the session, both men know they won’t be the lone stranger.
In my opinion, having both sexes represented in a group frequently makes for a more stimulating discussion. There’s something about the way men and women disagree and then sort out the differences that adds to the liveliness factor. But in the end, I’m not sure it’s something we should agonize over. Let whoever is interested in discussing the book come — and don’t worry about the rest of those darn people. Most women don’t want to climb mountains or skydive — and nobody says anything about that. It’s just the way it is. So if the majority of males don’t want to discuss books — who cares? Those of us who do enjoy it have a great time. Those other guys? They don’t know what they’re missing.