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Originally published January 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified January 23, 2007 at 5:44 PM

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Girl About Town

In the company of men

I like the idea of book clubs so much that I once started one. It all sounds so good in theory; who doesn't want an excuse to spend time...

Seattle Times columnist

I like the idea of book clubs so much that I once started one. It all sounds so good in theory; who doesn't want an excuse to spend time with friends while feeling smugly intellectual? It surely makes us better people, and makes up for many hours spent shopping and devouring tabloids.

The venture was embarrassingly short-lived. I'm all for reading, but when it came down to it, I suppose I'd rather say I belong to a book club than actually be in one. And, full disclosure, the real reason I started a book club was so I could be president.

That's why I was a bit miffed, frankly, when I heard about a boys' book club that not only has a name (BBB, short for Boys, Beer and Books) but has been operating successfully for almost five years. Having failed to make my own book club last more than a month, I was both curious and skeptical that men, of all people, could somehow do it better.

So it was that I found myself at Maritime Pacific Brewing Co. in Ballard on a rainy Tuesday night, an auditor of someone else's book club — ideal, as I didn't have to do the reading. Six boys, drinking beer and attacking two giant plates of garlic fries, which is quite unlike any book club I had ever seen. Book clubs, in my experience, are populated by women and almost always involve wine and fancy appetizers, to be determined by who is on what diet.

Book clubs in the boy universe are much more efficient than the female version. This one appoints a rotating dictator, who chooses the book, meeting date and watering hole. There is no discussion, no e-mails sent back and forth in an attempt to accommodate everyone — which, I grudgingly admit, is kind of genius.

"My wife's book club is very democratic," said BBB co-founder Tom Jackson, with what can only be described as a smirk.

A recent BBB selection was John Irving's "A Widow for One Year," which inspired a spirited discussion about breasts, sexual fetishes and Freud, all of which I can only assume was related to the book.

Jackson explained that his choice of Irving was an attempt to "lighten it up"; the BBB of late had been in a rut of doomsday/apocalyptic titles exploring the energy crisis, economic collapse, politics.

(My erstwhile book club considered reading "The Crimson Petal and the White" by Michael Faber because it was supposedly "steamy," but it was 800 pages, which is too many even if it is educational.)

Men, particularly when in the company of other men, frequently do things that mystify me, which is another column altogether. But I feel compelled to share that a sci-fi novel once prompted members of the BBB to pull out pen and paper to see if the time-travel calculations were accurate. When I asked for a list of books they had read, they sent me a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet.

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I recalled a conversation I had had earlier that day, after mentioning to a friend that I would be attending a boys' book club that evening.

"Are they nerds?" she asked.

In fact, they are engineers, mostly. They are men in their 30s who are mostly connected by their wives — who are friends and have formed their own book club. The wives think the boys' book club is "cute."

"We compare books that we read. She finds it very amusing," said Jess Garms. "I get the scientific book about how the world is ending, and she gets the book about oppressed women in the Middle East."

Once a year, the BBB and its wife-populated counterpart meet for a joint book-club gathering of couples. But only once.

"Not having women in the group is important," said co-founder Brian Clark, "because I never get to talk at home."

Girl About Town appears every Sunday in Northwest Life. Pamela Sitt: 206-464-2376 or psitt@seattletimes.com

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