The book club occupies an unusual place in our cultural experience. Those groups of people who meet each month and talk about what they’re reading fall somewhere between high school English class and Oprah’s couch.
One of the more interesting incarnations of such clubs meets at Venus Envy, Ottawa’s go-to spot for queer and sex-positive literature, toys and workshops. Each month the Naughty Bits Book Club discusses a book from the store’s diverse collection. All titles are available in-store, and Venus Envy offers a 15-percent discount on each book during the month it’s being read for the book club.
“It’s small and intimate,” says retail manager Lara Purvis of the club. “It gives people a safe space to discuss issues that otherwise they might not have the opportunity to discuss. In the end some of these books end up being like support resources as well as an opportunity for people to see themselves represented in the media where they might otherwise not.”
At first glance, many of the books don’t seem like they even could be discussed in a group setting, particularly the erotica. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Well, you know, this was hot for me, but maybe it wasn’t so hot for you,’ and then when you start to really dig into it, you find more and more to kind of discuss around the different stories,” says print manager Jenny Lacombe.
August’s book is Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl. Part memoir and part manifesto, it tackles head-on society’s treatment of trans women and femininity. “[It’s] about the way that sexism and misogyny impacts how we perceive and treat trans women and the difference in how we perceive and treat and respond to trans masculine individuals from trans feminine individuals,” Purvis explains. Author Serano shares her own pre- and post-transition experiences, contextualizing the issues she is exploring.
Venus Envy staff focus on creating a safe space for people to learn, share and ask questions. This is especially important when the discussion is focused on trans issues, where language plays such an important role. “Basically, we do our best to create and maintain a safe space here in the store for the book club,” Lacombe says. “I think there will be more conversation around kind of safer-space guidelines and what that entails in terms of language and those kinds of expectations, because we do work from an anti-oppression framework here at the store.”
“We all started learning in a place that needed learning,” Purvis adds. “While we are a space that has these ideals, we mess up all the time ourselves, frequently, and have to apologize and be accountable and take responsibility for it, and so people are so welcome to come out to book club and blunder through a question.”