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May 15, 2008

Men and Books: How We Eat

Posted by carol
Andrew McCullough and his band of fellows are defying the stereotype that men don't participate in reading groups. And what's more, they truly get into the spirit of things by preparing feasts for their meetings --- food, drink and ambience tied in to the theme of the book being discussed. Here Andrew shares some of their memorable moments and describes how the Man Book Club went from serving cold cuts to multi-course meals.

The original idea was simple: a group of likeminded guys would get together and talk about books. Naturally, we'd find a way to lubricate our discussion with alcohol. What no one expected was that food would become the draw for most of the men and the catalyst for some of our best discussions.

When I first pitched the idea for a men's book club, my understanding (from various women's book groups) was that some food and drink was necessary to fuel the discussion. So I laid out some simple rules. I asked guys to bring their own beverages and I requested that the host provide a light supper. At the first meeting, I complied with my own rules. I served up cold cuts and let everyone make sandwiches. That was the last time a "light" meal accompanied our discussion.

Since then we've seen only multi-course spectacles featuring the finest in organic this and fresh-caught that. No one will admit he's trying to outdo the prior host. But the number of men willing to take an entire day off work in order to prepare dinner for 15 is --- like the quality of the meals themselves --- rising with each passing month.

Surprisingly, our emphasis on food has produced more vibrant book discussions. We've been stimulated by one chef's inventive pairing of entrees with book characters (Steve Martin's Born Standing Up, Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone, and Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men), by another's choice of a dessert that captured a key moment in the novel (T.C. Boyle's The Tortilla Curtain), and by a particular dinner setting that aped the atmospherics of our book that month (John Steinbeck's Travels with Charley). Our meetings have morphed into a form of dinner theater, where we are the cast and where our host gets to play director.

I'm stunned by this turn of events. I had no idea how important food, and its preparation and presentation, is to most men. While I'm excited by the culinary sideshow we've all created, I'm more than a little worried about the next meal I'm supposed to prepare. Can anyone recommend a novel where the characters only eat sandwiches?

---Andrew McCullough