Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, relationships, grooming and more in a weekly dialogue.

CP: What do you get out of those beastly book-club gatherings of yours, anyway? And no, I am not jealous.

RN: I take no offense at your overt hostility. Like Stella Dallas, I was once a book-club outsider looking in, clueless to its mysterious rituals.

CP: Yeah, but clubbers must spend hours reading a book that they may not want to read. I suppose you all just stocked up on paperbacks of "The Kite Runner," or whatever Kelly Ripa has recently recommended.

RN: Me-ow. My club has few rules -- a good thing, as I am not so good with rules -- but one that is strictly enforced involves the Oprah stamp of approval. Kiss of death.

CP: OK, but don't most book-club members invest more time selecting the right wine and a cute outfit for meeting night, and then read a couple reviews of that month's book at Metacritic.com? That's what I'd do.

RN: I haven't faked it -- yet -- although there were a few Thursday nights where I was Evelyn Wood-ing it in the car right up to the last minute. Here's our book-selection drill: The host pulls a half-dozen titles -- paperback only -- and the group makes a joint decision. For me, the greater stress involves producing a winning dessert. Several members of my group are Dorie Greenspan-caliber bakers, and the prospect of hosting gives me a mild case of the flop sweats.

CP: When I've finished a really good book, as just happened this weekend with the new novel "Fieldwork," by Mischa Berlinski, I wish I could snap my fingers and convene a small group of smarty pants who'd also just read it. We'd gather to blather and then part forevermore. One guy might phone me later, just to follow up on some particularly deep insights. ... But that is not how book clubs work, right?

RN: I can only speak for my group, which spends roughly half the time socializing and the other half ripping into that month's selection. I really appreciate my fellow clubbers' insights. They've made me a much better reader, and I've run a ton of books through my Amazon.com account that I never would have selected on my own. "Lost in the City" by Edward P. Jones, and Jonathan Harr's "The Lost Painting," for example. Couldn't put 'em down.

CP: Isn't it mostly about everyone trying to show off how brainy they are? Or running through the lit-crit checklist -- character development, narrative arc, meta vs. tradish -- they used as undergrads?

RN: You're such a skeptic; is this what a Macalester education does to a person? I can only speak from my own experience, and that's a big fat "No." Our club's discussions are funny and lively, even when the book is neither. I have heard book-club horror stories -- one person turns into The Thing That Won't Shut Up, another only serves Chicken in a Biskits and Three Buck Chuck -- but that has not been my experience.

CP: Maybe I am envious, then. Another book-club fantasy parallels that great scene in the movie "Little Children," in which a heady discussion of "Madame Bovary" doubles as dirty talk about extramarital affairs.

RN: I was considering asking my book club to extend an invitation to you, but frankly, I don't think it would fly.

CP: Thanks anyway. I would never join a club that would have you as a member.

Click on W.G.'s weekly podcast at www.startribune.com/withering. E-mail W.G. at witheringglance@startribune.com.