Making a Book Club from Scratch

Single Man  I really need a committee. Sure, I can choose and assemble the titles on the reading list, and I can put together a few sample study guides, and facilitating the discussions is no problem. I can figure out how to write grants, I suppose, but it’s going to take time to learn how to do it right. And I can learn how to place ads in the local weeklies – that shouldn’t be too difficult, but it’s likely to be expensive. And I know how to write news releases, but figuring out who to mail them to can be time-consuming. I can do it, of course, but at the same time I’ve got to be reading a half dozen key books I haven’t read before, and re-reading twice as many that are fuzzy or forgotten. You would think there was enough time – our launch date is January 2009. But the Pride Foundation’s deadline for applications is August 29. So maybe not that much time. Falconer

I know how to do this stuff because I’ve created a group at University Book Store. It’s lasted five years. But I’m used to having a marketing team behind me. I’m used to turning in copy and having a poster appear. Now I’ve got to figure out how to market this club. I’m convinced that letting people know a reading group exists is the key act in forming one. The first step needs to be done right. Outreach is everything. Those readers who are longing to discuss books are out there, if I can just notify them.  Our Lady of the Flowers

Our project, the “Gay Classics – Let’s Read Them Together” project at Dunshee House, has become a two-year plan. Coming up with the top 24 books was much easier than the top 12, and I’ve got a great list (see future blog). But the order of reading them needs to be left fluid. I’ve decided to only announce the first three titles with the launch, so that I can have some flexibility in matching book content to group dynamics. Those first three titles need to be easy access, big name, compelling experiences. My goal is to make this book club into a provocative new gay social event in Seattle.  Counterfeiters

I’ve got a photographer who’s just about ready to commit to donating his services. We’ve discussed what I want – I need a poster and a postcard with an image no gay man can fail to notice. The image for “Gay Classics – Let’s Read Them Together” is two attractive naked young men in a yin-yang position suitable for mutual oral sex – except that they’ve each got an open book in front of the other’s equipment. They’re curled together reading. They’re more interested in their books.

Around them will be floating names – Thomas Mann, Virginia Woolf, E. M. Forster, Gore Vidal, Yukio Mishima, Jean Genet, Rita Mae Brown – the names of the most familiar and beloved of the selected authors.  Bastard Out of Carolina

At the bottom will be the dates for the first three meetings to discuss the first three books. The compelling question now is: which ones? How do we start?

The more ambitious novels I’ll hold back till the group is more confidant – The Counterfeiters and Pale Fire and Orlando. But I’ll want three big guns to get this going. My instincts tell me one of these needs to be about women, and I think I’ve stumbled on the greatest lesbian novel ever written (see future blog). I would have thought Maurice would be perfect for younger gay men, until I heard a young male reader shrug it off as boring. Boring! When it was first released from its time vault and published in 1972, I took it home from the bookstore the day it arrived and read it in one sweat-and-tear-drenched night. But maybe not today. Maybe something younger, like Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story. And for older gay readers, maybe Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man. Or Gore Vidal’s The City and the PillarConfessions of a Mask

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered that a volunteer who helps facilitate one of the support groups at Dunshee House knows about grant writing. I’ve emailed him about my project. A man who volunteers for one thing might volunteer for another. Maybe I’ll get one more person on my team, a desperately needed member. Then with Jacob the photographer and Brad the literary historian and David the future head of Dunshee House, maybe with these guys and one or two more, I’ll be able to get this dream project on its feet and give the Seattle gay community a thriving and vital book club.

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About the Author:

Nick DiMartino is a university bookseller in Seattle, WA. He was a Booklist contributor from 2007 to 2009 and is the author of Seattle Ghost Story (1998) as well as numerous plays.

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