Arts & Entertainment
2 min

Discussing books with strangers

Ottawa’s Hard Cover Book Club offers space for men to get together

Members of the Hard Cover Book Club demonstrate just how rowdy a vigorous book discussion can get.  Credit: Claude Jobin

When asked for highlights from the history of the Hard Cover Book Club, the mischievous Peter Hunter goes straight to the dramatic. “We haven’t had any fist fights,” he says. “We haven’t had any weddings come out of it —  no romances that I know of. Nor has anybody died in any of the meetings.”

Maybe it was a silly question — we all know what happens at book clubs. In the case of the Hard Cover Book Club, which is an organization for men who are into men, the books tend to have something gay about them.

Little is known about the club’s roots; the longest standing member has been with the group only since 2010. These days, a small but faithful crowd heads over to the Centretown Community Health Centre on the third Thursday of each month to share views, and socialize. It’s one of the Thursday evening Gay Zone events overseen by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa.

Hunter, who has been the club coordinator since the autumn of 2014, does have much to say about the benefits of the club. “Often the book is just a jumping off point for discussing broader issues too — we get off on all sorts of tangents,” he says. “And sometimes you hear things where it’s like, ‘I’d never really thought about it that way before.’”  

And while nobody’s been punched in the kisser so far, he does sort of crave a bit of conflict in meetings. “Some of the most interesting discussions are about books that people didn’t particularly like,” he says. “It’s easier to get people to talk about things they don’t like, than things they do like.”

It was with this in mind that he arranged for the group to read and discuss Raziel Reid’s controversial When Everything Feels Like the Movies, winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Award for Literary Merit. “It was not universally loved . . . [but] we had a really interesting discussion on a wide range of topics,” he says.

At the end of the each year, the group negotiates the reading list for the following year. The books can be just about anything, provided there’s some gay content. Hunter does, however, try to make sure the selections are all recently published works. As such, they’ve read many of the big gay hits o’ literature of the last half-decade — from Justin Spring’s Secret Historian to Tim Teeman’s In Bed with Gore Vidal.

And then, with e-books or paperbacks, coffee and maybe a cookie in their hands — if somebody felt like baking before the meeting — they get all heated over a passage in Andrew Wilson’s Alexander McQueen, or some such.