May 25, 2022

Book clubs: “All Women’s” clubbing?

Illustration depicting 19th century young women relaxing and reading on an August afternoon. (Universal Images/Getty Images)

Through Neha Sheikh

INOT In 1989, when New York photographer Lynn Gilbert decided to start a reading group, little did she know she was creating a precedent for urban New Yorkers to come together and enjoy the experience of reading. . Book clubs were not common in the late 1900s, and Gilbert sometimes had trouble gauging people’s interest. Audrey Zucker, a founding member of Gilbert’s club, said she wants the club to be open to women only. They wanted to create a space free from the shackles of society where women’s voices are often silenced. In a society that has been inherently patriarchal, it is not uncommon, even in the 21st century, to encounter male-dominated societies. Book groups or book clubs have started to become safe spaces for women to voice their opinions and be heard without being shunned. This gave a new dimension and purpose to their identity. In 19th century England, it was not uncommon to witness instances where women were barred from reading and engaging in literature. The idea that a woman is inspired by literature and speaks her mind often frightens men. This was mainly because it would lead to a paradigm shift from one where women were seen only as housewives to one where women could openly be creators, thinkers and enjoy their independence. .

Today, the question “What is your favorite genre of books?” evokes feelings of nostalgia, vivid memories, and life-changing experiences that are often born with the power of a good book. Identifying a specific genre and a book within it is a feat for any avid reader. From science and horror fiction to poetry and biographies, there is no unified structure when it comes to writing books. By Ryūnosuke Akutagawa Rashomon at Robert Fisk The Great Civilization War literature manifests itself in a variety of beautiful forms. While one deals with fiction and the other with the accounts of an English journalist, after explanation, common themes can be extracted from both texts. Having a place to organize those ideas and stimulate a variety of discussions about favorite books in an intellectual, thoughtful setting is vital. Book clubs created for this purpose are a meeting of people with common or even different interests in books, who, after having read a certain book for the definite week, come together to discuss the nuances in the explanation of the book in question. For years, many readers have engaged in book clubs and with the onset of the pandemic, these clubs have even adopted a virtual format.

Literature engaged with colonialism, poetry and fiction have often been favorites of many book clubs. Contemporary authors and poets from Tayeb Salih and Mahmoud Darwish to Carol Ann Duffey and Amin Kamil have proven to be influential in the lives of many.

“What fire is this, Lord?” City after city is burning.

Reason turned into pitch-smoke, ifs and buts burn.

The roof is on fire, the walls are collapsing, the rooms are ablaze

Houses light up houses, person after person burns.

This excerpt from Amin Kamil Cities on fire touches the hearts of many while evoking painful lived experiences. These lines, among other interpretations, can be nested in various contexts of the current catastrophic political situation around the world. From war-torn areas to severely militarized and conflict-ridden areas, “burning city after city” indeed encapsulates the destruction not only of homes, but of the very foundation and essence of a person’s identity. Being able to get together, talk about their favorite poets and discuss the impact of exceptional work is the cornerstone of any book club. On themes similar to those of Amin Kamal Cities on fireby Tayeb Salih North migration season is a post-colonial work that tackles an interesting and thought-provoking plot on important themes of colonization. With characters encountering acrimonious deaths, forced marriages and troubled pasts, this text traces the journey of a mysterious man, via an unknown narrator, who comes to Wad Hamid. Due to a highly patriarchal culture in the village of Wad Hamid in Sudan, this text presents a complex but very touching insight into life in postcolonial Sudan.

Such interpretations are reflected in book clubs because these meetings are not only places of solidarity but also safe spaces where people can sit and discuss their thoughts. Liberation can often be obtained from discussions and readings of texts. The support of other people in the process also often plays a huge role in finding your voice. This time we spoke to our readers to learn about their experiences with book clubs and their relationship to reading.

When a controversial local TV interview went viral (with 10 million views and counting), Iranian-American political fashion blogger Hoda Katebi received a ton of attention, both good and bad. Katebi used it to start a #BecauseWeveRead virtual book club

“I think one of the things that got me through the monotony of the summer, marked by the pandemic, was joining this book club at my university. Initially, I was a little intimidated to commit to anything because the last semester had been such a tragedy. But, I didn’t want to leave a community where there was no compulsion or competition to complete the readings as is usually the case in classrooms. That sense of freedom to sit down and democratically decide what topics you wanted to explore really piqued my interest and encouraged me to take this leap forward. It was a wonderful experience – reading for reading. We explored many themes and genres ranging from fiction and poetry to non-fiction and essays; all with a tenderness and curiosity that betrayed the suffocating and uncompromising rigor that academia demands of everyone. Reading through multiple topics such as gender, sexuality, media, politics, and occasionally bits of fiction with the group, followed by discussions without worrying about having to say the good points all the time, made rewarding experience. These discussions sometimes took on anecdotal tangents and ended up being the best part of the discussions. I loved the reading group, it helped me come to terms with my own love for reading and kept me wonderful company through my otherwise dreary summer.– Rania Raja, student

“Like most things this year, my book club has also gone virtual. The virtual mode has allowed the membership of the club to multiply. We now have a group of 15 members and we meet once a week to sharing our views on the designated book of the week. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve covered a wide variety of genres, from fiction to true crime. The hour we spend discussing the nuances of the book, helps us bond and gives us a different perspective on things, it’s also gives us the opportunity to discuss serious and pressing issues.The book club brings us a sense of comfort and community in these difficult times.– Saadiya Ahmed, student


“Book clubs were the essence of my childhood and I owe my linguistic and grammatical knowledge to the time I spent there. Even today, I find my friends from the book club and we play classical pieces, read philosophy books and enjoy Paulo Coelho writing with our favorite cup of noon chai. Joining book clubs also made me fall in love with reading, something I will treasure all my life.”– Anoura Gani, student


“Book clubs foster a love of literature. They invoke a pleasant and nurturing environment. Its purpose is to bring together a community of book lovers to learn and discuss something they all have in common, their love for books. They give us a chance to read and explore genres that you wouldn’t usually choose. I meet with my book club every Friday and we talk about a lot of female authors and poets. We love Sylvia Plath and keep the first Friday of every month to discuss our poems.”– Didda Ashish, student


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