Books Build Bridges

Last January, I put out a call on Instagram for book bloggers with an invitation to be a guest on my blog. Two women from Iran – identical twins! – responded. They have an English book club and were thinking of creating a blog. I didn’t hesitate for a moment (click this link to read about it).

A few weeks ago Shima and Shiva sent me a note attaching letters from members of their book club who had read Time and Regret. An out-of-the-blue email that made my day. Not only had they read my story, but they had taken the time to write to me. Here are some of their words.

Kimia said: “Your novel taught me to be curious about historical secrets that is behind something as well as historical events.”

Arshia said: “Reading your book was a very sweet and exciting experience! Remember that when I started reading the first part of your book, it drew my attention to read it as quickly as possible.”

Melika said: “I read your story ‘time and regret’. It’s fantastic and enjoyable. When I was reading that, I thought what happens next. I was trying to know and I guessed.”

Fatemeh said: “I like to read stories of different countries … but in Iran people don’t pay attention to it. I think if it [Time and Regret] wrote in Iran, people would welcome it.”

Did Time and Regret transport them to a different world? Does reading in English invite different thoughts? Reminds me of Azar Nafisi’s memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran.

New friends from a part of the world I’ve only read about. Books building bridges.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on FacebookTwitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Book Clubs – A Changing Dynamic

bookclub participationWhen asked about book clubs, 31% of participants in the 2013 reader survey said they belong to one or more book clubs. Included in that number are those who belong to online book clubs.

For some, online book clubs are a poor substitute for meeting in person, relaxing over coffee or wine and a bit of food before getting down to the more serious business of debating the merits of a given book. The social aspect of physical meetings seems to augment the experience, as does the ability to watch expressions and gestures for clues to what others are thinking. Proximity brings immediacy to the exchange and a liveliness that cannot be replicated over the Internet.

Physical or virtual, as a book club newbie, individuals who refer blithely to Proust, Woolf, Joyce, Dostoevsky, and others as though they are friends might intimidate. Over time, discovering books you would never have read and enjoying the lively conversations that follow will lead to a deeper appreciation of reading as exploration, encountering characters whose life philosophies and experiences are vastly different from yours, discovering unknown places and cultures, vicariously inhabiting challenging circumstances. Book clubs demonstrate the importance of an open mind when reading and encourage you to consider character arcs, story structure, language use, underlying themes, symbolism and a host of other features that make books great. Regardless of size, with just a little effort a great discussion can ensue.

Author Shilpi Somaya Gowda had this to say about books: “Books provided both the opportunity to reflect on our lives, and to think about the larger world — to consider ourselves in the context of generations before us and cultures beyond our borders. That opportunity for reflection and connection is, in my opinion, the greatest role art can play in life.”

What better way to explore those opportunities than in a book club? Yours could be serious, academic, and scholarly, or social, therapeutic, and bonding. Discussions prompted by a book club setting will stretch your mind and take you to places of thought you haven’t been to before. Reading a book knowing you will share your perspectives with others adds depth to your experience. The benefits include community, intellectual stimulation, new books and new people, a break from everyday life, an opportunity for self-expression, the contemplation of deeper issues, and the chance to read more often.

Physical book clubs are the traditional forum for discussing books. A newer forum is social reading: the use of blogs, social media and other online sites for reading recommendations and discussion. Online book clubs mentioned above are one example. Broadly speaking, social reading involves relationships: readers with writers; readers with readers; readers with reviewers and bloggers. Social readers seek like-minded people. They enjoy the give and take of conversations that occur via social media and the ability to establish connections. Reading is no longer a solo activity.

Some refer to social reading as a synchronous activity: discussing content (i.e. books) while inside the content and there are new technologies to enable such activity. Others prefer an asynchronous view of social reading: first I read then I discuss. Variations abound. You can read-discuss-read-discuss just as you might do in a classroom setting. Or you can read-annotate-share-read-annotate-share so that others can follow along with your exploration of whatever content you’re reading. Ultimately, the separation between writer and reader blurs.

Online, in person, small group, large group, synchronous or asynchronous—it doesn’t really matter. The point is to talk about books, share your thoughts, and open your mind to different points of view.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Her debut novel, UNRAVELLED: Two wars. Two affairs. One marriage. is also available from these retailers.

Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Book Club selections for next season

Book ClubThe book club gals had a lively discussion Monday night as we debated selections for next season. Our guidelines are: recommend 1 to 3 books which you have already read, all genres allowed, keep the length under 400 pages, consider novels that will ‘stretch’ us to think and discuss.

Here’s what we came up with (descriptions provided by book club members):

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Power – NYT best book in 2012. A profound and moving novel about the Iraq war, set in the fall of 2004 and written by a vet who is a creative writer and poet. The narrator, Bartle, thinks deeply, processes his doubts and emotions, and shares his angst but does so in a way that is intimate and touching, not overbearing. The war and US-Iraq context is only the overlay for what is an examination of deep themes. Is not long or heavy in the reading, as the author is a poet.

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter –  A discovery I made of this important avant garde book and late 1960s sizzler. This book is highly regarded for its classy but frank sensuality and great style. It is the tender story of a love story between an American in southern France and a young French girl. But the narrator is critical; he is an observer and the book is his interpretation of their relationship and a blend of fact, surmise and imagination. Just such an amazing book and not at all dated.

The Dinner by Herman Koch – Civility and friendship slowly disintegrate as two brothers and their wives struggle with a desperate family crisis over a meal at a fashionable Amsterdam restaurant.  Darkly comic, suspenseful and controversial.  This bestselling book has been translated into 21 languages. You can read this book quite quickly. It would be a very interesting book to discuss. There are many layers to it. I went to Elaine Newton’s (well known book reviewer in Toronto) review of it and it was extremely interesting.

A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead – The stories of many women, some told by them in their own writings, who were resistance fighters in France, but not for the reasons we might think. They resisted what the French, some in the highest levels of government, did to the French, that is, French Jews. Their story is only being told now and it is quite a revelation to read what traditional history has missed, particularly about where and how these French women (and there were many of them) were punished for what they tried to expose – a remarkable testimony of how women protect each other.

Almost There by Nuala O’Faolain –  Nuala was an opinion columnist for The Irish Times. This is a memoir of of her life in “the crucible of middle age” – forging the shape of the years to come and clarifying and solidifying relationships to friends, lovers, family and self, and a meditation on how good fortune chased out bad, of an accidental harvest of happiness.  Searingly truthful with sparse clear language.  A New York Times Bestseller (2002)

The Massey Murder: A Maid, Her Master and the Trial That Shocked a Country by Charlotte Gray –  In 1915, Bert Massey, a Studebaker salesman and scion of the Massey family [wealthy, influential Canadian family], was shot dead on his veranda on Walmer Road by Carrie Davies, his 18-year old domestic, with a .32 automatic pistol. This book explores the relationships, intentions and factors brought to bear by the family members, the police, the judge and those in the courtroom.

American Innovations by Rivka Galchen – 10 delicious and unnerving little stories crafted in an original and somewhat twisting and mysterious way. Rivaka Galchen captures people on the ground and in the mind – hard to describe, just rivetingly interesting and effective.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged (in 1829) with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution. The Observer: “A debut of rare sophistication and beauty.”

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes –  Set before and during the Great War, Birdsong captures the drama of that era on both a national and a personal scale. The story of Stephen, a young Englishman who arrives in Amiens in 1910. Over the course of the novel he suffers a series of traumatic experiences, from the clandestine love affair that tears apart the family with whom he lives, to the unprecedented experience of the war itself.

Birdsong was my suggestion in honour of the 100th anniversary of WWI. All in all, a great list: fiction, non-fiction, memoir, short stories, historical, contemporary, love and life, multiple geographies. We’ll be challenged and entertained!