Quarantine Book Club: "Tristram Shandy" by Laurence Sterne

Saturday mornings, 10 am-noon Pacific, Jan 7-April 1, 2023

“A man getting hit by a ball in the groin works on so many levels.”  —Homer Simpson 

Laurence Sterne, that sass-mouth, was a wonderful minister who gave good sermon. He was also a very naughty boy. His 9-volume masterpiece, Tristram Shandy, one of the 100 greatest novels of all time (according to The Guardian), is all about how people in the 18th century thought about your business below the waist.

Like Don Quixote or Moby-Dick, it's a bucket-list kind of book, a huge, intimidating, digressive (but hilarious!) novel that many people intend to read but rarely seem to find the energy for on their own. It was first published serially between 1759 and 1767. Reading it at a pace of about 50 pages a week, with a group of other people doing it at the same time, will make it accomplishable and fun. Plus, your book club leaders will be on hand to help demystify the confusing bits, and the various artists and experts in the club will reveal things you might not notice on your own.

The novel tells the life and opinions (mostly the latter) of the unfortunately-named Tristram Shandy, a fetus who becomes a baby much too slowly, and a child who became a man much too quickly. He tells the story of his messed-up birth, the patience and fears of his philosophical father Walter, the wounds and hobby horses of his Uncle Toby, the sermons of Yorick, the creepy baby forceps of Dr. Slop, and the brilliance of his mother. (If you want to get a sense of the book's antic spirit, check out Steve Coogan's 2006 film A Cock and Bull Story, about trying to make a movie of Tristram Shandy).

In short: Romance! Philosophy! Spectacle! Mud wrestling! Velocity and the lack thereof! Endless jokes about everybody’s burning loins! Footnotes! Nose jobs! Unexpected circumcision! It’s a novel of digressions, a novel of conversations, a novel of war and peace and the line of beauty and getting your hobby horse ON.

At our weekly meetings, we'll discuss what we've just read, and you'll learn interesting biographical anecdotes about Laurence Sterne and how he created this novel. We'll also consider the history of the period politically, religiously, culturally, musically, and scientifically. We’ll meet, in the most silly way possible, other great writers and thinkers of the era. And we'll discuss the invention of punctuation and the pre-nup, and the gynecological dangers of opening a window in your birthday suit. 

There will be lively discussions and contributions from musicians, writers, artists, and other people unfortunately named Tristram.* Participation in discussions is entirely optional, but the conversations in these book clubs are so good, so funny, and so free-wheeling, you may be tempted to join in. 

If you miss any meetings, no problem: A recording of each session will be sent to all ticketholders automatically. 


Scroll down to the bottom of this page.


We recommend this Penguin Classics edition of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.


Christopher Frizzelle is the former editor-in-chief of The Stranger and the founder of Frizzlit, which produces the Quarantine Book Club and the Silent Reading Party.  

Brian Bouldrey is the author of 8 books of fiction and nonfiction, and has edited 8 anthologies. He teaches creative writing and literature at Northwestern University and he is the North American Editor of the literacy series Gemma Open Door for Gemmamedia. 


If you would like to join this class but price is a barrier, sponsorship funds are available to help make it possible. Please apply here.


If you choose to pay $400 for this club, you are automatically making a $100 donation to the financial assistance fund. If you choose the $500 ticket, you are making a $200 donation. Thank you for making this class accessible to people who would not be able to afford it on their own.


By Kathryn Rathke 

* If your name is Tristram ON YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE NOT ON A HOOKUP SITE, we will let you join the 3-month project for free.