Booze bottles were scattered across the counter amidst half-empty containers of take-away Indian food. Punk rock blared over the stereo as a kitchen full of guys yelled over the music, cracking jokes and backslapping each other. Welcome to the Paperbacks, North Vancouver’s huge, lumbering, and wildly successful all-male book club.
It’s no secret that book clubs are a vital cog of the publishing industry. Titles that become favourites of book clubs have become bestsellers. That’s why, as an author of three books, whenever I’m invited to attend a book club that has selected one of my titles, I always try to be there and I’m always thankful. Most of the book clubs I visit are predominantly female and very polite affairs.
The Paperbacks are something different. Last week, I accepted their invitation to discuss my latest book, and I had never experienced anything quite like it before in seven years of book club visits. Even though we were in a gorgeous Edgemont Village home, it felt more like I was in a beer league hockey locker room after a big win. The loose, unpretentious, politically incorrect atmosphere was like a cross between Slapshot and Old School.
The Paperbacks were started nine years ago by Jim West, a fiery ball of energy; a kind of West Coast version of Julian from The Trailer Park Boys, just replace the omnipresent rum and coke with a tumbler of scotch on the rocks. Jim is a former high school dropout-turned-punk rocker-turned-successful contractor and wood carver. He and his wife have four boys. His favourite band is the Ramones and he built urinals into the bathrooms of his home.
“Some of the guys have a beer league hockey team called the Silverbacks, which I played on for about four years,” Jim told me. “When I quit the team, I decided to try something new, so I started the Paperbacks.”
“I formed the book club right in the middle of the international financial crisis of 2008,” Jim continued. “Things were dire, my construction business was in the shitter, and I remember thinking, ‘When Rome burns, do something positive.’ I emailed 15 guys about forming the book club, thinking I’d get maybe half to respond, but all 15 wrote back right away and said they were in.”
Many were in a similar situation to Jim and looking for the kind of positive distraction reading – and the camaraderie of a club – can provide. As of 2017, membership in Jim’s all-male book club has exploded to 39 guys, at an average age of 50.
The Paperbacks have three rules:
1. Jim chooses the book.
2. The book must be purchased from an independent bookstore.
3. They have to read a mix of fiction and nonfiction.
“I don’t know what it is, but guys mostly want to read non-fiction. Maybe it’s because men are drawn to history, I’m not sure, but sometimes I have to force the fiction onto 'em”, Jim told me, scotch in hand, as we toured his incredible carving workshop in his backyard.
Beside myself, other authors, such as Cea Person (North of Normal), Steven Galloway (The Cellist of Sarajevo), and Timothy Taylor (Stanley Park), have also braved the alcohol-soaked lion’s den that is the Paperbacks book club meetings and have lived to tell the tale
“We love reading, we love getting together, and we love supporting the authors,” Jim explained, as he showed me his astoundingly extensive pre-First World War Pickelhaube helmet collection in a secret lair in his home. Then he spotted a book on the table and barked at the other Paperbacks members who had tagged along. “Hey! This is our next book: Kings of the Wyld. It’s fiction! Read it!”
Grant Lawrence is the author of the new book Dirty Windshields: the best and the worst of the Smugglers tour diaries and is available for your next book club meeting.