The Tough Guy Book Club is a meeting place to discuss books and life in general

Tough Guy Book Club members of the Castlemaine chapter at a monthly meeting. Picture: SUPPLIED
Tough Guy Book Club members of the Castlemaine chapter at a monthly meeting. Picture: SUPPLIED

There are only a couple of rules you need to follow to join the club.

First, don’t talk about work, what you do is not important and the members don’t want to know.

Second, bring a positive attitude to each meeting.

That’s right, finishing the club’s monthly book is not vital and members are always encouraged to come to each meeting regardless of if they have completed it.

The Tough Guy Book Club was initially started as a way for a group of mates to check in with each other every month, which led to its inception at a pub in Melbourne.

They started using a book as an excuse to get to the pub so they could talk properly, eventually a few guys at the bar noticed them and were more than eager to join in on the discussion.

Like all good things in life, it started out small.

But from there it grew, from suburb to suburb, state to state there are now almost 30 chapters across the country and the first international chapter was recently launched in the United States.

Founded by Shay Leighton, the club chapters meet once a month in pubs to have in-depth discussions about the themes of the chosen book.

“The tough guy thing is more of 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.

“We’ve read two books by Ernest Hemingway, and he’s a perfect example of the masculine. His books are strong and pioneering, they’re about conflict and bullfighting, loving, drinking, war and the ocean.”

Some of the books the club have read include The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway and The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson. 

Essentially the club acts as a meeting place for men to come together to discuss literature and the everyday issues they face.

Alex Playsted has been influential in launching the Bendigo chapter. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

Alex Playsted has been influential in launching the Bendigo chapter. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

Alex Playsted or ‘Wash’ as he is known by fellow members, was hooked from his first meeting.

“I really liked what I saw when I rolled up,” Alex said.

Alex’s love for books and having a good chat were a good draw-card to join, but he felt he wanted to be even more involved with the club and is now a director that helps form new chapters.

“I was in a pretty challenging time of my life,” he said. “Tough relationship, isolated from people and was in the role of a carer.

“Very quickly I found I had a very strong community around me of like minded guys that were all very different individuals, but unified with compassion and our interest in the fellow man.”

When Alex Playsted moved to Castlemaine, the first thing he did was start a new chapter, not because he wanted to but because he needed to.

He previously founded the Footscray chapter and had a vision to build one in his new community.

The new chapter attracted the attention of Clem Ryan, who had just recently moved to Castlemaine in the middle of 2017 after experiencing a bipolar episode.

“For someone like myself who suffers from depression and anxiety it has been good to have a group of guys to meet with once a month and just talk,” Clem said.

“I was amazed by how much you get to know people by listening to them talk about a book, you could just tell how they were opening up about their own life experiences.”

The name Tough Guy Book Club led him to believe it would be a bunch of bearded guys sitting around chatting about books, but it turned out to be a whole lot more.

It dawned on him how book clubs can attract ‘genuine, open and honest people’.

“Guys having a new friend catch up would be a bit awkward, but because we have the book as the basis of the conversation it just allows for a greater flow of conversation.”

Pete Collings had recently moved to Castlemaine and one day while he was walking around town he noticed a Tough Guy Book Club poster that took his interest.

There were a few more occasions where he was confronted with the poster before he ‘bit the bullet’ and decided to attend his first meeting.

“I found it was a really diverse group of guys, which intrigued me, listening to the different perspectives people have of the book and on life in general,” Pete said.

Members of the Bendigo chapter which meet on the first Wednesday of each month at The Metropolitan Hotel. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

Members of the Bendigo chapter which meet on the first Wednesday of each month at The Metropolitan Hotel. Picture: ANTHONY PINDA

After the success in Castlemaine, Bendigo was next on the list with the first chapter meeting in late 2017.

Jamie Rooney had just moved to Bendigo from Glasgow, Scotland.

“Being a standard boy from the west coast of Scotland, we do not discuss emotion, it’s not something that is done is Glasgow,” Jamie laughed.

“During the couple meetings that I’ve been to, I’ve been able to open up a bit more which is something I generally would never have done.”

He became aware of the club after he saw an advertisement on Facebook.

“My dad is in a social biker club back home and I thought it would be fun to be part of a book club that is based on a biker gang set-up,” he laughed.

“I decided to go along to my first meeting and I absolutely loved it.”

His love of books is something that has been with Jamie throughout majority of his life and he had fallen into the ‘bad habit’ of rereading old classics and favourites instead of finding new literature.

“It’s great to actually have someone sit me down and say ‘you need to read this book this month’. Books I’ve never heard of are great because they help me branch out,” he said.

Like other members from Castlemaine and Bendigo, Jamie was feeling the pressure of social isolation and struggled to find new friends.

“When I first moved here, it was quite difficult getting to know anyone. Everything here seems to be based around sport, so it has been a great way to meet other people.”

Bendigo member Troy Beamish also had a similar experience, having just recently moved from Melbourne and had a very limited social network.

“Books have always been there, ever since I can remember. They are my primary source of knowledge and have always been an escape in my life,” Troy said.

He found great relief in the open discussions he experienced at his first meeting and was surprised in the depth of the analysis that was explored in the book’s themes and its characters.

“I thought it would be more of an analysis of the characters, whereas it branched out into a deeper look into humanity and how the books applied to the world,” he said.

“It was the most appealing part that will make me come back.”

Tough Guy Book Club meetings are held on the first Wednesday of every month and to find your local chapter visit

No chapter in your area? Why not be a tough guy and start your own.