Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Little Back Story

I am an older dad, and nothing reminds me of that fact so much as going to birthday parties for my younger son’s classmates. Most of the parents look closer to their 30s than their 40s, while I’m bearing down on 60.
So one brisk Sunday morning when I faced a roomful of four-year-olds, a smattering of unshaven dads with video cameras and many, many moms, I was eagerly scanning for someone to talk to.
Joe Doubek, also of Maplewood, is a large guy — played football in college — so hard to miss in a room. He seemed as lost as I was, and we got talking.
He pegged me for one of those Upper West Side-Park Slope-Maplewood types (true) who would probably not be favorable to some of his passions — fishing, childhood where every family had deer-they-had-hunted in the fridge (false). In fact my interests — sports, adventure, history, learning about really smart and interesting people — matched his.
Soon enough, we came up with a plan: form a book group for guys, with the added hook of focusing on nonfiction. I had no idea it would be so much fun.
We’re on our fourteenth book now. We started out with Niall Fergusson’s The Ascent of Money, as many of the guys in the group work in finance, or at least did before last year.
We then we took a crack at Karl Meyer’s Tournament of Shadows, a terrific book on the Great Game, which offered both spy craft and background for the Afghanistan war, though none of us quite made it to the end.
Other selections have been Frank Partnoy’s The Match King, Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, Tracy Kidder’s Strength in What Remains, Craig Mullaney’s The Unforgiving Minute, Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, Craig Ferguson’s American on Purpose, Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan, Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run, Bryan Burrough’s The Big Rich and Daniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
While the subjects have often circled around money and insane adventure, what we’ve appreciated in all of the books is learning stuff — finding out things we all felt we should have known. None of us want classes, but we do want knowledge, and that is only half the fun.
John Glenn, one of the group’s approximately 15 members, applauds the bi-monthly get-togethers because, “it is the only time he gets to meet with a group of guys.” Our reading group is the only chance we guys have to stretch our legs and our brains — to enjoy each other’s ideas and little stories, our dreams and frustrations.
We’re not competing or confiding, we’re just talking and we all can’t wait to have an excuse to do it again.
Next book: Robert Edelstein’s Full Throttle: The Life & Fast Times of Racing Legend Curtis Turner.

Monday, August 30, 2010