Erotic fiction can spice up a book group

A risqué title gives a literature club an added frisson

Every book club has its own rules of engagement. I was briefly in one where everyone was single and never even bothered to buy a copy of the book they were supposed to have read. So I joined a "women only" one, thinking that, rather like single-sex schools, there would be no distraction from the task at hand. Husbands and boyfriends had to leave the premises and male authors got a rough ride, but it worked well otherwise.

That was then, in those pre-lapsarian days before 50 Shades of Grey kick-started our obsession with literary erotica. The E L James ripple effect has seen a flourishing of book clubs that specialise in smut, from the Erotic Book Club set up three years ago in East London's The Bökship bookshop to various other proliferations. Where the sexual tension used to reside below surface, between members of a traditional reading group, this dynamic has shifted so that the sexual frisson comes from within the pages of the book itself. There is also the emergence of hybrid book clubs-cum-cabarets where performance, sexual titillation and literature combine. Most recently, a gay literary salon called Naked Boys Reading saw men doing just that in front of an audience. The Facebook page for the event at the end of November pledged that "our boys will unwrap their packages while you're listening to some bookish treats."

With or without the cabaret act, these clubs are easy to mock. After all, how long can a discussion last on which sex scene was most sublimely crafted? And do the people who attend resemble the kind of women who turned up to E L James's first public reading in London this year, looking like leopard-skin clad escapees from a hen party, or are they more like the jurors of the Literary Review's Bad Sex Awards – sneering public-school types who are impossible to please?

They have a meaningful side to them in so far as they continue a phenomenon that reflects our need for erotica. The (non-erotic) novelist Ali Smith recently made the point that the mainstream popularity of 50 Shades of Grey must reflect a desire or fantasy that we are expressing collectively in the same way as we did in our childlike need for escapism during the Harry Potter phenomenon.

My problem is not so much with "erotic" book clubs as with book clubs in general. In fact, it strikes me that the erotic genre offers a very apt metaphor for the book-group format as a whole, in which women – and it does seem to be mostly women – get together to talk about a book, but end up talking about it rather awkwardly for 15 minutes before hitting the plonk and changing the topic to what they really came to discuss: their work, families, love lives or lack of them. Book groups, in my experience, are thinly disguised cheese-and-wine parties in literary wolves' clothing. It is at least less irritatingly bourgeois to add a bit of Jackie Collins and a smattering of the Chippendales to the whole tradition.

In my years of book-club bondage, I spent years acquainting myself with other people's bad taste and reading the kind of books I wouldn't otherwise have touched with a barge pole. On the odd occasion I discovered an author I absolutely loved, but more often than not it was a waste of my time. I came to the conclusion that there are too many books and not enough time to be reading a novel that someone you barely know has plucked off a bookshelf.

Arranging book clubs by genres is maybe a more effective way of reading books that will make you happy. So if we really have to have book-clubs at all, then long live the genre book club, in all its 50 Shades.

Arts & Entertainment
TV

Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
music

Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

    How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

    Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
    Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

    British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

    The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
    Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

    Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

    Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
    Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

    The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
    Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

    Cannes Film Festival

    Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
    The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

    The concept album makes surprise top ten return

    Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
    Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

    Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

    Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
    10 best baking books

    10 best baking books

    Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
    Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

    Jury still out on Pellegrini

    Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

    The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

    The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit