Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Where Men Hide by James B. Twitchell, Photographs by Ken Ross

Nonanon turned me on to this book.

Where Men Hide, a collaboration between English professor James B. Twitchell and photographer Ken Ross, is an unlikely book. Twitchell did not have to find in a barbershop an old Esquire with Ross's photographs. Ross did not have to give Twitchell access to his collection showing the places that men frequent. But they did. When creative people work together interesting things happen.

The result is a fascinating collection of essays around the premise that men "hide" in definable places, like hunting camps, boxing rings, fraternal lodges, garages, and baseball dugouts. They go to these places to escape the daily grind and their families. Supposedly they go where women will not follow. As a work of social science, Where Men Hide is pretty soft. Twitchell spends more time on tangential topics than the premise and does not really insistent that he is correct, but he writes so well that readers do not care.

In the process, Twitchell answers questions that readers never thought to ask. How do barbers learn to chat with their clients? Do fathers enjoy electric trains more than their sons? Why did fraternal orders prosper after the American Civil War and the world wars? Why do restaurants decorate with memorabilia? Did boxing replace dueling and thus save many lives?

While most of the content is entertaining, some of it is disturbing. The chapter about strip clubs suggests that they are often chosen by corporate executives as locations for sales meetings to intimidate women trying to rise in corporate hierarchies. The strippers are hardly noticed as the "boys" do business. "No gurls allowed!"

In his summary, Twitchell says the title should have been "Where Men Hid," as gender barriers have mostly disappeared. Women now go almost everywhere, and a result we have cleaner, brighter places. We all benefit. Still, there are periodic episodes of male behavior that need to be monitored, such as the Promise Keeper movement.

Where Men Hide is one of my favorite books of the year. Libraries should have it.

Twitchell, James B. Where Men Hide. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006. ISBN 0231137346


Nonanon said...

Hey! I'm SO glad you liked it! I just thought it was such a great, novel, unexpected little book, thoughtful and beautiful to look at to boot. And great review; I've been wondering what a male reader would think of it!

Anonymous said...

I have got to get this book! My husband always "hides" within hearing distance of the dinner bell! ;)