What's Tony Thinking

from “The Gentlemen’s Book Club”


Our all guys book club has been going about seven years now. Wonderful group. We discovered from an article on book clubs that only 10% of them are men’s groups. So we decided to celebrate our exceptional nature and acclaimed ourselves, “The Gentlemen’s Book Club.”

Our M.O. is to set a theme for a series of reading, usually lasting about six months. Our most recent theme has been works by African-American authors. Of that category, we’ve just scratched the surface, but I know that many of you who see this blog are avid readers — so I thought I’d mention and comment on what we read.

We started with a recent book by James McBride who some of you may know from his The Color of Water (highly recommended). This one was Deacon King Kong, a rollicking story set in late 60’s – early 70’s New York. It’s a redemption story, which is welcome these days.

Next up was the one non-fiction selection on the list Heather McGee’s The Sum of Us. Her guiding metaphor is the community swimming pool that civic worthies had filled in with cement rather than integrate. She shows how costly racism has been and continues to be, in every sector, to us all.

We started a little wrinkle with our next author, Colson Whitehead. giving group members a choice of his books, either Pulitzer-Prize winning The Underground Railroad or his most recent Harlem Shuffle. I ended up reading both and have commented on Underground in an earlier post. A searing story from the era of slavery. Shuffle is quite different, a bit more picaresque, set in 1960’s New York. Colorful, if I may use that word. A great writer.

Nathan Harris wrote a very wise work for a very young man, The Sweetness of Water. He takes us to the very early post-Emancipation Proclamation, post-Civil War era in the South to see how various people, former slaves, returned Confederate soldiers, white farmers who try to help former slaves, are faring amid seismic change. Very rich.

Then to a classic, Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison. Somehow I expected a short book, which this is definitely not. Nearly 600 pages of a book I would describe as “demanding” but very worthwhile. Published in 1952, and winner of the National Book Award, it is a kind of epic account of a young black man’s journey from the south to Harlem. Tenant farming, a black college, white benefactors, the never named Communist Party, Black Nationalists are all part of the somewhat Kafka-esque journey, which has many present day resonances.

We are about to wrap up the series, again offering a choice among the works of Octavia Butler, either Kindred or the work for which she is most well-known, The Parable of the Sower. I think I read the latter some time past (I can’t always remember what I’ve read!), so will turn to the more recent Kindred. Butler, who died not long ago, was a Seattle resident.

There’s not a book on the list I wouldn’t recommend, so if you are looking for a suggestion or planning summer reading, you’ll find something great here.

One possibly unique feature of “The Gentlemen’s Book Club,” is that we ask each person to come prepared with a selection that particularly spoke to them. These are read aloud, after which that person shares why this bit grabbed him. Ensures everyone gets their oar in the water, and has proven surprisingly rich experience hearing the text read in different voices.

Our next series is a turn to biographies of figures around the Civil War era, beginning with David Blight’s massive new biography Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom. We’ve given ourselves a few months off in the summer to work through it.

Aren’t books and reading a wonderful thing! Read on!

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