Once I was in a book club that had only men. I know what you’re thinking: “What did you read about, beer?” It’s just that kind of stereotyping that keeps men from forming book clubs and reading Proust together. Whatever. We read a history book. A history of Guinness Stout.
One of our members worked for the company that owned the brewery, and his idea was that we would all read the book, and then rent a bus and visit pubs to further study this important icon of Irish commerce and culture. I guess you could say we were trying to better ourselves through education.
Not that we all actually read the book. It was more a hands-on learning experience, for many of us.
One nugget I will share with you—because I did read it—is that Guinness is creamy because nitrogen gas is injected into it at the tap. That’s why it looks so lovely and mysterious, and why it’s lighter tasting than you’d expect. It was a gimmick Guinness added in the 1959, when lighter-colored beers began to outsell dark ones. As gimmicks go, it’s a good one, like the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks, Henny Youngman’s violin, or the Village People spelling out “Y.M.C.A” with their arms. After hearing the song for 40 years, I recently mastered this, and now I look for opportunities to show off my ability, like the grounds crew at Yankee Stadium does while tidying the base path following the sixth inning.
While sampling the stout with the Book Club, it recalled an earlier time in my life when I drank my first Guinness in Dublin. It made me remember the sawdust on the floor, the crackling fire nearby, the small but spirited band playing “The Wild Rover.” Proust’s famous madeleine, the taste of which brought back to him a rush of memories, had been replaced by a pint.
My wife is in a book club that has only women participants. They have read My Brilliant Friend, the first of four books by Elena Ferrante about two friends growing up in postwar Naples, Italy. The series is loosely based on The Lord of the Rings. It takes place in a strange, far-away land, there is a lot of fighting, and men are the Orcs.
Our men’s book club lasted but one meeting, as it was always meant to. But as brief as its existence was, it may have been the greatest book club of all time. We learned a lot. About Guinness. About friendship. About nitrogen.
It made me want to learn so much more. Like, do they serve Guinness at Yankee Stadium? And, how can I get on the grounds crew there?
Illustration by Isabella Bannerman