Thursday, October 20, 2011


The Book Club Challenge

This Saturday October 22, Capital Crime Writers and the Ottawa Public Library are teaming up to host A DAY TO KILL, a free, day-long festival of mystery to celebrate the large, vibrant crime writing community in the Nation’s Capital.. There will be panels, celebrity readings, book signings and a writing workshop given by fellow LKCer Mary Jane Maffini. Not to mention a free lunch. The event runs from 9 am. to 4:30 pm at the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library on Metcalfe Street, so come on down!.

I will be duelling it out with C.B. Forrest in a debate about Oprah’s Book Club. The resolution we’re debating is…

"Whereas Oprah's book club greatly increased reading rates across North America, the Publishing industry should strive to recreate that phenomenon with another celebrity book club. " - Agree or Disagree?

I’m on the Disagree side. The debate is intended to be heavy on humour and rapier wit, but as I was sharpening my rapiers, I started thinking about book clubs. We authors love book clubs. They engage people with reading, introduce people to new books, encourage critical thought and debate, and nurture a community of book lovers.

Plus, as an author I sometimes get invited to speak at one. I treasure those evenings. There I get a glimpse inside the warm, welcoming world of friends, many of whom have been getting together to talk books, eat, schmooze and laugh for over twenty years. They have seen each other through marriage and divorce, through births and deaths. Books may have brought them together, but friendship keeps them there.

Almost invariably they are women. I have been to dozens of book clubs around Ottawa, and I can count only two or three that included a man. Usually only one, usually a husband.

What’s with that? Do men not read? Do men not discuss what they read? Once they finish a book, are they done with it and raring to tackle the next? Before anyone replies that maybe men just don’t read fiction, or mysteries, let me add that these book clubs are highly discerning and rarely stick to a single genre. They read widely, and in fact my book is often the first mystery they have tackled. Some members are pleasantly surprised to discover mysteries can have literary merit, so I consider that a victory.

I can understand a man’s reluctance to venture into a club already chock full of women. Women en masse, chattering and laughing with that warm intimacy of shared experience, can be scary. But bring another man with you, and the balance tips. Or start your own book club. Book clubs spring up every day, between neighbours and co-workers, between women waiting with their children at the school bus stop.

I would love to go to an all-men’s book club. And no, not for that reason. I’d love to see how men react to books. What do they get out of them? Do they discuss the issues? Share impressions? Relate to the characters? Laugh and schmooze the way women do, taking at least half an hour to get down to business? Would they use the club, as women do, as a springboard for friendship?

So come on, guys. I challenge you. Do you belong to a book club? If not, why not?

Barbara Fradkin is a child psychologist with a fascination for how we turn bad. In addition to her darkly haunting short stories in the Ladies Killing Circle anthologies, she writes the gritty, Ottawa-based Inspector Green novels which havewon back to back Arthur Ellis Awards for Best Novel from Crime Writers of Canada. The eighth in the series, Beautiful Lie the Dead, explores love in all its complications. And, her new Rapid Read from Orca, The Fall Guy, was launched in May.


  1. Great challenge, Barbara! Friends of mine belong to a couples' Book Club that meets over dinner. I've heard the wife of this pair mention that the male book selections differ from the women's.

    I also wonder if Canada Read's shift to only non-ficition books this year is an effort to engage more men in the discussion of books?

  2. My brother-in-law belongs to an email bookclub with men he knows from all over the states and Canada. To me that's so MALE somehow. They don't have to bother with small talk or photos of grandchildren. They just get right down to brass tacks. Phhht!