Inviting the City to a New Book Club

Reading Guy  Dunshee House is hosting a discussion of six gay novels. The conversation will last for twenty-five nights. We’re inviting the city of Seattle.

That’s how we’re designing the promotional postcard to launch the new Dunshee House book club beginning in January. Those postcards are going to be everywhere – libraries and health care facilities and counseling offices and bars – to make sure that if there’s anyone in Seattle interested in reading gay novels and discussing them, anyone, they’ve been urged to join us.

THE NAME OF THE CLUB. I have wrestled with this long and exhaustively. The natural, easy-to-say name seems to be Gay Book Club. But is that inclusive enough? What exactly does that mean? We’ve included the words “and Lesbian” in the title. That’s a mouthful. It’s too long to use casually. And does that include everyone now? We’ve considered GLBT and LGBT (but that alienates straight people who don’t know what that means). We’ve considered Queer Book Club (but that alienates older people who hate that word because it was once vicious and condemnatory).

I wish we could give this club a name people would actually use. The easiest name for marketing and memory would be simply the Gay Book Club, but I think maybe we’d better call it the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club. A mouthful, but I think women need to be specifically included and that Seattle should be in our name, too. It shows our breadth and reach. It makes us the definitive gay book club in the city. And I want the slogan in all of our advertising to read “a book club for anyone who’s ever loved the same sex.” In my heart, that includes us all.

As for what happens now, GOAL  #1: OUTREACH is the most immediate. For November and December, working with my new marketing manager, Grant Bostwick, a University of Washington intern, I want to conduct as thorough an outreach as possible: I want the eye-catching postcards we’ve designed –  a naked man reading, surrounded by piles of gay books – to be available in all the gay bars. I want them available, with posters, in the other major Seattle gay health care agencies: Lifelong AIDS Alliance, Gay City, Multifaith Works, and very importantly, Lambert House, the facility for gay teens.

But this club is for everyone. The outreach has to go farther. We need to ask for the support of the Seattle Public Library and the University of Washington Libraries. We need to ask Robert Bakan, the experienced publisher of The Seattle Gay News, to help us devise an effective advertising program, and then apply that program to Seattle’s other independents, The Weekly and The Stranger. I want to approach University Book Store to join us in this whole promotion, and I want to make sure Seattle’s oldest living gay-oriented bookstore, Bailey Coy, is also included. Now’s the time to ask Nancy Pearl for a favor, and to approach our local public radio, KUOW. We need to come up with news releases for The Seattle Times and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. I want to invite as many people in Seattle as possible, book lovers and those who’ve never enjoyed reading, and encourage them all to share their experiences at Dunshee House.

The Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club needs to do whatever it can to reach that lonely closeted teenager across the city who might feel totally alone. That teenager reading secretly in the basement who, long ago, was uncoordinated, near-sighted, virginal me.

My other primary objective is GOAL #2: MULTI-PART DISCUSSIONS. There’s so much you can do with a book. Author appearances. Group movie nights. Documentaries. From five years hosting a book club, I know how often you want more time, or one aspect of the book dominates the discussion to the exclusion of others, or topics are opened up that introduce whole new avenues of thought. Or a scheduling conflict suddenly cuts you off from the monthly meeting. You get free tickets to the opera. Or your old college buddy is passing through town. There’s only one chance and now you’re frustrated, you’ve read the book and your thoughts have nowhere to go.

WEEKLY MEETINGS. So I’ve decided that this book club, unlike most, will adopt the format of the weekly support groups at Dunshee House. Each novel will be discussed four times during its month, every Wednesday evening at six. And if you happen to enjoy the company of the other readers, as I hope we all do, if you become caught up in certain aspects of the discussion, if your perceptions are challenged by new viewpoints from other readers, you can return to other meetings after reviewing the novel for fresh insights.

Our first two reading selections, Breakfast with Scot and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, each has a film adaptation to accompany it. On one of the Wednesdays we can all watch the film version together. There are excellent documentaries on Gore Vidal and Christopher Isherwood that can enhance a meeting as a supplement. And to enrich the historical context of each book, we’ll have our literary historian, Brad Craft of University Book Store, available for at least one meeting each month to answer questions about the book’s place in gay history, and all the funny, dirty little tales and touching period anecdotes that surround good authors and good novels.

Weekly meetings will mean that if some reader feels a particular identification with some aspect of the book and happens to take a few minutes grappling with it, the rest of us aren’t glancing nervously at our watches. There will be breathing room for people to learn how to apply their experiences in literature to their own lives, to interpret for themselves the messages and values in their reading.

Gad, this all sounds so ambitious I’m getting tired just thinking about it. Am I up for this? Enough blogging. Time to let the cat in out of the cold morning air, and for both of us to curl up in the armchair for a little quality reading time. What are Sunday mornings for?

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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.

4 Comments on "Inviting the City to a New Book Club"

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  1. shulich@hotmail.com' Tom says:

    I headed a successful gay reading group in Boston a few years ago. You may recycle the name I used for that group:

    Queer Fiction

    BTW, the group did not attempt to artificially unite gay men & lesbian women (let alone bisexuals & transgenders) into some forced political coalition. We read & discussed boks
    by, for, & about gay MEN.”

    It was a good group of guys.

  2. Nick DiMartino says:

    Thanks, Tom. And in a sense I totally agree about “artificially uniting.” On the other hand, I’ve discovered some real gems in lesbian literature that I have to admit, as a gay man, I’ve utterly enjoyed. Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt was one of the inspirations for Lolita, and compared to Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar (written around the same time) was much more daring. And Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is just hilarious. I’m having a ball. Somehow crossing that line seems right and worth doing to me. Obviously, it’s men’s company I adore, but we can really learn a few things from our sisters… Thanks for reading my blog, Tom.

  3. ocalaguy35@yahoo.com' Michael Perry says:

    I am an avid reader but find that in the area that I live there are few people who enjoy discussing the books. I like the discussions because it gives me other views of what I have read. Also I enjoy the idea that other people are enjoying the books that I read. There are not a lot of outlets for discussion in the area that I live. I was looking online for a discussion group for gay/lesbian literature and found your site. I would love it if your discussion extended beyond your local area.

    Michael

  4. ryxit5@gmail.com' Raymond says:

    I live in a small city in upstate NY, I’m not sure there is enough sustained interest from the the gay mens community to support a monthly book reading club. Cities that do have clubs are quite a distance from me. So is it possible to have a book club online? Next question does one already exit?

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