Book groups are in rude health these days. Indeed, there are rumours – or a Twitter address, at least – pointing to a Listener-backed National Book Club, which sounds fun.
But if the book club isn’t enough – or if you prefer not to bother with the books at all – how about a book review journal club?
According to Ralph Gardner, writing in the Wall Street Journal, “several accomplished gentlemen gather every couple months” – in an upper West Side apartment, naturally – “to deconstruct the articles in the New York Review of Books. Technically speaking, I suppose it’s not a book club, but a periodical club. But the format is much the same, except that instead of sharing a book each participant selects an article to discuss from a recent issue.”
As one well-informed friend recently put it to me, the NYRB is the world’s cleverest cheat sheet: read the critiques in the paper and you can bluff your way through just about any highbrow literary love-in.
But it seems, on the basis of Gardner’s experience, that it’s more than a highfalutin swot session.
Since you’re wondering, here’s an insight into how the thing works:
I must confess I hadn’t read the first assigned piece, “The Secrets of Houdini.” But I enjoyed the discussion nonetheless, as the gentlemen tried to conjure contemporary equivalents to the great magician. David Blaine? Philippe Petit? David Copperfield—whom [one of the group, attorney Jack] Lerner said he attended high school with and whose name used to be David Kotkin?
Someone suggested Steve Jobs, someone else Madonna as figures who, like Houdini, had their finger “on the pulse of the zeitgeist.” The participants tried to probe the performer’s psychological make-up, Mr. Russell describing his escapes as “intrauterine.”
The discussion is not limited to the lengthy articles. The personal ads get a look in, too. “The personals come with titles such as ‘Aural Erotica’, and explanations such as, ‘Let me blow your mind, your ultimate erogenous zone’,” writes Gardner, helpfully.
The correspondents tend to be middle-aged, Ivy-educated, secure (or so they say), adventurous – though perhaps more so intellectually than physically – whose fetish objects are less things like feet than a glass of Beaujolais by a glowing fireplace.
Whatever inclination might have existed to dwell on the personals was mitigated by the fact that there were daughters present and three more articles to discuss before we called it a night.”
But the NYRB personals are in truth rather dull, especially when compared with the London Review of Books, home to a brand of lonely-hearts notices several thousand times classier than its New York namesake. Here are a handful, cribbed from a GQ interview with David Rose, the LRB editor who has compiled two anthologies of the best of the ads.
Nothing says ‘I love you’ in a more sincere way than being woken with champagne and pastries and roses. Apart from a dog with peanut butter on the roof of his mouth. Write, we’ll meet, sleep together and in the morning, just before my friend’s wife tells me to get off their sofa and get out of their house I’ll show you Winston’s trick. It’s hilarious. You’ll have to bring the peanut butter though – they’ve put locks on all the kitchen cupboards. Man, 26. Box no 6433.
Tall, handsome, well-built, articulate, intelligent, sensitive, yet often grossly inaccurate man, 21. Cynics (and some cheap Brentwood psychiatrists) may say ‘pathological liar’, but I like to use creative with reality’. Join me in my 36-bedroom mansion on my Gloucestershire estate, set in 400 acres of wild-stag populated woodland. East Ham. Box no 0620.
In February next year I will begin work in my garden on a 1:128 working scale model of the Karakumsky Canal, which stretches 1,200km from Haun-Khan to Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan. It irrigates a course of 800km and is the largest in the world. Now make love to me. Man, 53. Kettering. Box no 5889.