Look out, Shania: There's a new half-time show in town

Up until this week, the essence of the Charlottesville Men's Book Club has been heavy on the Men and heavy on the Club, but perhaps a little light on the Book, as most of the authors could be fairly placed in the class with Dave Barry.

"If you can finish it after two sessions in the bathroom," says co-founder Ashley Schauer, "you can come and talk intelligently about it."

Since its beginnings in 1999, the Club has never found its debate cramped by the parameters of the traditional meeting time: The 15-minute half-time of Monday Night Football was long enough.

But recently, ABC newscaster Diane Sawyer got wind of the Club. In a spot featuring the guys huddled in full tailgate attire on a couch in Schauer's house off Barracks Road, Sawyer presented them with a challenge from a book club in Knoxville, Tennessee. Could they handle a "chick" book?

"We've never read a book by a woman," says co-founder David Balaban. "We've never read a book about women. We've never read a novel."

Now they must finish Lee Smith's The Last Girls, a story of four middle-aged women who take a rafting trip to relive a college experience.

These guys know about reliving the college experience (beer, chips, high-fives, boo-yahs). And they also know about the aging process, as nearly all of the 10 regulars are wading through their 30s with a couple of young kids.

So is Schauer enjoying the novel? "It's been all right," he allows. Balaban hedges, saying he likes the descriptions of the Mississippi.

If Smith's tale of female bonding and maturity does touch some testosterone heartstrings, ABC will be there to bear witness. As will Smith.

The author, whose honors include two O. Henry awards and a Robert Penn Warren prize, gets all-conference honors as the men have invited her to see them discuss The Last Girls at next Sunday's Super Bowl half-time, where they'll have a full 45 minutes to weigh in. Segments of the analysis will air on Good Morning America February 6.

This is not the Club's first brush with greatness. Last year, Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post accepted an invitation to join their abbreviated discourse on his book, The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life and Death. For his participation, Weingarten, an avowed medical ignoramus, received a small trophy and a slew of gruesomely real stories of medical emergencies– nearly half of the Club's members are physicians.

Whether Smith, who is the keynote speaker for this year's Virginia Book Festival, will find herself treated to a similarly eye-opening experience ("listen to what happened to me when I rafted the Mississippi with my med school pals...") remains to be seen. Surely nothing the Charlottesville Men's Book Club might exhibit can be as tasteless as the typical Super Bowl half-time show.