How the Tough Guy Book Club is breaking all the rules

 The first rule of the Tough Guy Book Club is that it's totally okay to talk about book club.

In fact, continuing the conversation is encouraged, according to Ashley Thomson, convenor of the Canberra chapter which has been running for about 12 months now.

"I know whenever I leave book club I come away, as you tend to do from a good book club, with a new appreciation of the novel which leads you to want to have more conversations about it," Mr Thomson says.

The Tough Guy Book Club was set up by Shay Leighton in Melbourne about four years ago as a way for men from all walks of life to get together and discuss literature and connect with their community.

Reading rules

There are only really two rules, according to the club's website.

"One is that you don't talk about what you do. Leave that behind, talk about who you are and what you want and what you like and whether turning up the air-conditioner makes it hotter or colder. Anything but your job.

"The other rule is less specific and it's 'don't be a f***head'. Essentially we are a positive and supportive group of fellow mans. We don't want toxic bullshit. This isn't a place for poorly informed gender-politics or neckbeard agendas. We drink beer, eat food, and talk about awesome books and movies and stuff."

There are now chapters in Hobart, Brisbane, Sydney, Launceston, Melbourne and several regional centres. There are also two chapters in the United States, in Portland, Oregon, and Boston, Massachusetts.

Book it in

The Canberra chapter has about 10 regular members of varying ages and meets in different pubs around town. The Old Canberra Inn and the Wig and Pen are two popular haunts. The club meets on the first Wednesday of every month and it is free to attend.


Mr Thomson said it should come as no surprise to anyone that men actually read books and have conversations about them.

"Creating a space where men can talk about this stuff is unusual and important," he says.

"Men are allowed to think highly of literature but in their everyday lives they're not encouraged to feel and think about literature in a male environment."

Clever guys

He said the name Tough Guy Book Club is "clever" in that it diffuses any questions about a man's masculinity that may occur when it comes to a discussion of literature.

"If you call it a Tough Guy Book Club you can set aside challenges to anyone's masculinity or their sense of themselves as a man because in that space they'll be safe to discuss books as honestly and intellectually and with as much feeling as they want."

According to the Tough Guy Book Club website "the Tough Guy thing is more a theme than anything".

"Mostly we read books by tough guys, rather than as tough guys. The books we choose are guided by a loose central theme of masculinity," the website says. Books read this year include Marlon James' Man Booker Prize winner A Brief History of Seven Killings, Home by Toni Morrison, The Big Nowhere by James McIlroy, Christos Tsiolkas' The Jesus Man and On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

Books by Ernest Hemingway are also popular.

"He's a perfect example of the masculine," says Mr Leighton.

"His books are strong and pioneering, they're about conflict and bullfighting, loving, drinking and war and the ocean.

"As a man he himself is sort of a literary paragon of masculinity - a strong figure with a scotch in one hand and a shotgun in the other. But he also killed himself.

"There's something worth talking about in that, I think."

Turn it up

Mr Thomson said men often face social issues they might have trouble discussing and Book Club can provide an opportunity to counter that, given conversations tend to flow freely.

"If men can get together and make new friends I don't see how anything bad can become of that," he says.

"One of the things I like about Book Club is the emphasis is on turning up, regardless of whether or not you've read the book.

"Come along, have a beer, and chime in if your mind gets fired up. The point is to be there."

For more details about the Tough Guy Book Club head to

This story was first published in the Canberra Times.