There’s now a place in town for men who like to read and it is offering up far more than an appreciation of books. The men at the Ballarat Chapter of the Tough Guys Book Club leave with new friends, warmer hearts and a greater understanding of what it takes to be a man in today’s world.
The Tough Guy Book Club began in Collingwood in 2015 and now has more than 25 chapters throughout Australia and the United States. Every chapter meets at the same time on the first Wednesday of each month to discuss that month’s designated book.
The Ballarat Chapter started in December 2018. The next meeting is on 6 June 2018 at the North Britain Hotel, 502 Doveton St North, Soldier’s Hill. Chapter president Alex Playstead is one of three founder-directors of the Tough Guy Book Club network. Alex has helped start and progress groups in Footscray, Bendigo, Castlemaine and Ballarat.
“Stories are our true currency,” Alex said, “and the model is very simple. Basically it’s for guys who read and like talking about the books and appreciate the different conversations that come from that. The guys are interested, curious, they have empathy and compassion; all the ingredients for great conversations.”
Unlike some book clubs that spend a token amount of time on the book, Tough Guys has guidelines. The facilitator has a list of questions to keep discussions on track. Talking about work is off limits and the men cannot use the group as a networking or contact base. “It means they have to talk about deeper issues,” Alex said.
“Often we enter a room of strangers but walk away a few hours later knowing more about one another than their partners or families do,” he said. “It can be quite a profound experience.”
Member Eddie said; “I have only been to one meeting and it was a fantastic discussion, a great exchange of ideas [about Kim Scott’s Dead Men Dance]. I have always loved books, I can remember as a child riding my bike to the bookmobile … for me it was a no-brainer. I almost didn’t come though because I thought I might be too old, but another guy came and he was 92 …”
Newcomer Emmett said: “I have been a lifelong reader and I love books of all kinds. I’m relatively new to Ballarat, I’ve got young kids …I think it’s kinda hard to meet people as you get older.”
“I think it’s hard for guys outside of a work environment… we tend to behave like islands and stick at home,’’ Stuart said. “I have tried book clubs before but it’s been hard to find one that will accept men.” Opinion on book choice was divided. “One or two have been a bit onerous,” one man said. “I would have ordinarily given up on Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying at chapter one.”
“We purposely try to inject some diversity into the reading list, guided by what is available,” Alex said. He said he, and the other founder/directors, gather for what they call a “book fight’ three time a year, where more than 40 titles are laid out and undergo a process of elimination. The Ballarat Tough Guys group started in December 2018 but has grown and is “going very well.” The chapters are kept to about 15 and if consistently larger, a new group formed. Alex first came across Tough Guys in a bookstore in Melbourne.
“I’d studied literature, so it interested me. I took a photo of the poster and forgot about it. Six months later, I’d just moved, I was feeling isolated and struggling a bit; I saw the photo and went along.”