The first rule of book club is...’Don’t talk about book club’. I know, it’s stoles from the film ‘Fight Club’, but it was a rule comically invented for us bibliophiles who love reading so much that we can’t curb our enthusiasm until the book club night. We just want to chat about the book with our book club colleagues when we see them at work, at the supermarket. The danger is that talking about the book outside of the confines of ‘book club’ will take away the pleasure of the evening itself. So the first rule of book club is...’Don’t talk about book club’.
I love book club and sadly, I am not currently a member of one, although am in the early stages of trying to set one up.
The first book club I belonged to was in Doha. For many years it was super book club, with literate, well read people gathering together to eat and chat and choose books. I was teaching English at a British school and was invited to attend book club with Teresa, the school librarian. We didn’t really like the first book club we went to. Some of the people were a bit overbearing and although the discussion was interesting, some of the book choices were a bit odd.
Teresa was a vibrant and energetic woman. She introduced me to the joys of reading teenage literature LONG LONG before the advent of Harry Potter. She was also always up to date with modern trends and when I asked her if she had the latest new thing, she’d often just ordered it for the library. Living in Doha in the late nineties, this was a real feat for her, to be on the forefront of modern literature.
So, not resting on her laurels, Teresa decided to branch out and she set up her own book club, with an advert in school and word of mouth, we soon established a great group of women (men were welcome but only occasionally seemed to make it). We were all ex pats living in Doha but with varied roots: British, Bangladeshi, Canadian, American. We had a range of jobs: teacher, librarian, telecoms, engineer, and our shared passion was reading.
We met at each other’s homes, cooked, ate, chatted about the books and had some fantastic evenings discussing, amongst other things, politics, religion, magic and women! The American in the group did get teased quite a lot when we read anything about the environment or war; she was teased for all of Bush’s sins. One of the most memorable evenings for me was when we’d all read a giant of a book called ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell’, a great magical realism adventure. When we started discussing the magic in the book and suddenly the stories started coming out about myths and cultural legends in Bangladesh, about an encounter with a shaman in China. What a great night.
There weren’t any rules at book club; we just tried to make sure everyone contributed. Teresa had some terrific idiosyncrasies. At the beginning of book club, we’d all have to look at the front covers and as we had often bought our books in different countries, or had older or newer versions, the differences were often fascinating. Teresa loved to look at the visual aspects of the cover. Surprisingly with a Margaret Drabble book one year, we discovered that the American version had a completely different chapter added to the end of the book. We couldn’t quite believe that American publishing houses had been that patronising to their readers as to add another chapter to explain the story.
Teresa’s other funny quirk, often at the end of book club, was to ask whether we thought the book would make a good film. This often prompted us all into a whole different outlook on the book. For some reason, the chemistry between the group members was great. Supportive, funny, thought provoking. We had some good, good years. Members changed, people came and left but somehow, we had a solid core of people and we loved to read and loved to talk about reading
Sadly, Teresa left Doha, I had two babies, people were leaving Doha and then book club dwindled away. I joined another book club when I arrived in the UK but felt frustrated when much of the discussion turned to village gossip.
I was excited when I found Teresa on Facebook last year and we shared a few messages about new books we’d read, The Hunger Games being one we’d both loved.
Sadly, last week, I found out that Teresa died unexpectedly. She is a great loss. Her vibrancy and absolute love of literature will be a lasting legacy. I hope to, one day, be a member of another lively, long term, entertaining and erudite book club but I have a feeling than any future book club will be measured against my memory of Teresa’s and found wanting.