On Finishing The Book by A. Goon
I'm not in Tough Guy Book Club because I don't read enough.
If anything I read too much. On the train, in bed, while brushing my teeth. I used to listen to audiobooks every night to fall asleep. Books have always been a huge part of my life – I like buying them and finishing them and then lining up the matching editions on a big shelf because I believe whoever dies with the most books wins. I'm one of those shitheads who aims his laptop at them on video calls.
So, I've never been to a meeting without finishing the book first.
I enjoy talking books because I'm pretty good at it. I can describe the shape of the story or the arc of a particular character. I can make connections between this book and another one I've read, sometimes by the same author. I usually know something about the context in which the book was written, or I'll go and look it up. I can deal in abstracts and come up with a theory and most of the time I can make it sound convincing.
And here's the thing – I wish I wasn't.
Don't get me wrong, books are cool. We're supposed to be a book club so it's nice to have a token guy who actually reads the thing. It's helpful – I can say something when there's a weird silence, or answer a question, or shove the conversation along. I like to think I might be helping to point out or explain something someone else might have missed.
But that's not why I force myself to finish every month.
I do it because I'm scared. Talking books is easy for me, which also makes it very safe. If I finish the book I can go along to the meeting armed with knowledge and a bunch of clever things to say. I can be superior and dismissive of books I hate and superior and defensive about books I love. I'd be genuinely afraid to go and sit in a room full of men I don't know without a nice thick book between me and them. I would rather talk about fictional monsters and spaceships than risk saying anything meaningful about myself.
Now, here's the really interesting thing. In all the meetings I've attended (6 years and counting), I don't remember half the crap I've said.
I do remember almost every goon I've met by name. I can look around the table every month and remember who's about to have a baby, who came back from holiday, whose partner got sick. I remember goons telling interesting stories about loved ones with disabilities or the countries they visited half a century ago. I remember that goon who only ever showed up once - didn't read the book, didn't even know which book we were reading - but he knew a lot about the Cold War and had a sweet moustache.
Anyway, we do challenges now. You can put up a poster or get your cholesterol checked and win some merch. I'm not very good at them because they require you to take a risk and get out into the real non-fictional world. So here's a challenge I can set myself:
Don't finish the book. Don't even read the book. Like, go a month without even opening to the first page.
The thought is so terrifying that I don't know if I'll ever manage it. I'd have to walk into the pub with nothing to offer except a pair of ears and my company. I'd have to shut up and learn something, or ask a question and leave it to someone else to give their theory and sound smart. I might even have to figure out how to say something interesting about myself. I know nobody will mind. At the very least, they'll remember it for next time.
So if you want to read more, but you're worrying whether you can show up to Tough Guy Book Club without finishing your homework, don't. Books are great but they shouldn't be a shield or a competition. They're just a fun thing to talk about, a good reason to meet up every month, and a tool to crack open a bigger conversation.
Plus, you might help someone just by being there. Chances are, if you're nervous that you don't have anything book-related to say, there's someone like me who feels the opposite.
Come chat with the dude who secretly, desperately wants to talk about anything other than fucking books for a change.