I have organised Appetite Book Club for 10 years. We meet monthly – apart from December and August – and have always read and discussed fiction. As the group has grown, and diversified, we have split into two monthly meetings – one evening and one daytime.
This year, the daytime group will have a ‘summer holiday’ meet up and in the spirit of a good summer holiday, where rules can be broken, we have opted for a non-fiction choice. I’m looking forward to the change and find myself increasingly intrigued by this option. As much as I love ‘the land of make believe’ I am excited to hear facts and curious about the tone of a nonfiction book. As well as facts, I am also craving some hard hitting advice – at a time when the world feels politically and financially unsettled. Life’s big mysteries can be always be found lurking in the pages of an imaginative and imaginary text but my brain is currently requiring something more direct and concrete.
The book we have chosen is Grayson Perry’s THE DESCENT OF MAN and it wasn’t a difficult choice. This year, each of our books has provoked a discussion around gender and quite often we have asked, ‘what it is to be a man’ – we invariably spoke about this book title as well as the television series he made on the subject. It, therefore, seems like the obvious option and I hope we can link them back to our 2017 reads to date:
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry
The Crime Writer by Jill Dawson
Guapa by Saleem Haddad
A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart
Anatomy of a Soldier by Harry Parker
End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker
Two of these books involve female characters set in a male dominated era of history; one features queer characters living in a middle eastern country (where their sexuality is compromised); another is a father struggling to rise to the challenges of being a male role model; February’s book features a male protagonist (a soldier) who loses his physical strength in an all male situation and finally ‘End of the World Running Club’ – which the majority of people didn’t really like because it felt chauvinistic!
We are yet to read and discuss THE DESCENT OF MAN but reviews are encouraging. Penguin’s own website says the following:
Grayson Perry has been thinking about masculinity – what it is, how it operates, why little boys are thought to be made of slugs and snails – since he was a boy. Now, in this funny and necessary book, he turns round to look at men with a clear eye and ask, what sort of men would make the world a better place, for everyone?
What would happen if we rethought the old, macho, outdated version of manhood, and embraced a different idea of what makes a man? Apart from giving up the coronary-inducing stress of always being ‘right’ and the vast new wardrobe options, the real benefit might be that a newly fitted masculinity will allow men to have better relationships – and that’s happiness, right?
Grayson Perry admits he’s not immune from the stereotypes himself – as the psychoanalysts say, ‘if you spot it, you’ve got it’ – and his thoughts on everything from power to physical appearance, from emotions to a brand new Manifesto for Men, are shot through with honesty, tenderness and the belief that, for everyone to benefit, upgrading masculinity has to be something men decide to do themselves. They have nothing to lose but their hang-ups.
While I look forward to reading his thoughts I’m also pretty sure it will send me back to the Land of Make Believe fairly quickly!