About

This site is a blog for The Austin Athenaeum. We are a men’s reading group that meets monthly at some local Austin restaurant. Our venue has a bad habit of changing in the last few years due to forces of civic development, corporate greed, and the need for just the right combination of food, outdoor seating, and quietude.

Our 20-year anniversary was the February 2020 meeting. Our book selection is dominated by 19th and 20th-century classic fiction, although we do also read occasional contemporary books of both fiction and non-fiction. And with even less frequency we read books from more distant history such as Don Quixote, Shakespeare, Boethius, Thucydides, Suetonius etc. You can find a complete list of the books we’ve read in the left sidebar.

The other items in the left sidebar include the short essays written by members regarding a particular month’s selection. Books are selected by vote. Each member may propose a book or pass. At voting time, everyone gets two votes. If there is a tie, we vote between the two (or more) winners. A few times the tie-breaker vote has been a tie, and a coin toss has made the decision.

We nominate a book two months in advance to allow time for members to procure a book. The member whose book wins the vote normally (although it is technically not required) writes and reads aloud a short essay on the night on which the book is discussed. Those who submit their essays to this blogmaster will have their essays posted in the left column.

And yes, I did say men’s group. Years ago we wrestled with the question of whether to allow women to attend. We decided that although we all know many women of our acquaintance who are mentally, socially, intellectually and otherwise equal to our group, we would remain a men-only group.

Let the reason be attributed to our own frailty and selfishness rather than to any deficiency in women. The stance is borne of a charitable disposition, honor, and the leftovers among some of an upbringing that inculcated respect for women. We are selfish. We know ourselves too well and fear that the sacred joie de vivre of our beloved meetings would be diminished in the hearts of many with the presence of women regardless of how doughty and erudite she might be.

We drink beer and sometimes whiskey. Smoking of all forms of tobacco is welcomed. Most curse in the most ribald and sometimes unhinged language completely without inhibition. We recognize that, for many of us, Athenaeum is the only context in our lives that we can do so over the topic of books, and there is near unanimity of opinion that the uniformity of sex is a leading catalyst in the unfettered fellowship we enjoy.

Finally we encourage the multiplication of reading groups in Austin and around the country, and to that end we provide a document describing our procedures that have been hammered out over the years until they have arrived at perfection. These are also located in the left sidebar.

1 thought on “About”

  1. Matthew Ballou said:

    Dear Austin Athenaeum,

    By 2026, I intend to open an athenaeum in Austin, akin to Seattle’s Folio Library. When the time comes, I hope the athenaeum becomes your resident gathering space. Reading groups rarely have 20 year life spans. Your reading record is exceptional. Cheers to you and everything you stand for.

    Best,
    Matthew

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