Tuesday, August 29, 2017

#SOL:17: Coming to Know Other through Book Discussions

Utopia (M.A. Reilly, 2012)

"The only true voyage...would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to see the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to see the hundred universes that each of them sees, that each of them is."  - Marcel Proust

I have been thinking about Proust's sense of knowing other and becoming wise about other a lot lately. The times we live in demand such attention. Last night was my monthly book group. We were discussing Karolina's Twins: A Novel by Ron Balson and the recent uprising of white nationalists and anti-semitism. The novel is set in current day Chicago but chronicles happenings that occurred in Poland during Nazi occupation. (I write about this novel in a previous post). One way we become wise about other is to interact with others who are not necessarily like us--at least at the surface. It is through interactions--sustained ones--that we learn how our differences can be interesting and how being human creates essential similarities. I think about this as friendships have formed across these last few months that the book group has been meeting.

The book group is comprised of six other women and we range in age from our 30s to 50s. We are also of different races, religions, and ideologies. Three of us are immigrants.  Several of the women have lived in places outside the United States and others have lived outside the North East. Most of us would classify ourselves as progressives, but not all. We are all professional women and our work represents a range of occupations. The majority of us own/control the work we do. What is interesting to me is how discussing books allows for friendships to form, ideas to be developed, and difference and sameness to be enjoyed. We meet once a month at a local restaurant and over a meal and some wine, we spend three hours talking about the book for that month and current events and more recently about ourselves and our families. Jawahara, the book group's founder and leader prepares a set of questions that initially guide the discussion.

These are the books we have read to date since I joined the group:

March/April: Between the World and Me by Ta-Neshi Coates
April: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi
May: Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
June: Hillbilly Elegy:A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
July: Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
August: Karolina's Twins: A Novel By Ron Balson

And here are the books we plan to read through the remainder of the year:

September: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
October: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: A Novel by Arundhati Roy
November: Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
December: Grief Cottage:A Novel by Gail Godwin

As we have gotten to know one another, we also have introduced one another to other types of activities, opportunities, and groups.  I was introduced to the writer's group I now belong to from Jawahara.  Several of us will be at a women's writing conference next month as a result of an email Jawahara sent. One newer member of the book club, Navina, came to it through an art group she and I have in common. I thought she would love the group and it seems that she does.

Way leads on to way if we stay open to chance, opportunity, and other. Reading literature helps to open us to one another and to ideas.  Through shared books, Proust's notion of the true voyage can be realized. Imagine a whole country reading and discussing a single novel? It might be one way to begin to heal the great divides we now feel. 


  1. I love being a member of a book club, so it was nice to read about the positive experiences in yours. It sounds like this is a good group that reads some great literature and connects in ways outside of the book.

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  3. I enjoy my book group, too, Mary Ann, and find that although we are not diverse in some ways, we certainly are in ideologies, which makes the discussions quite interesting. We are all connected through some kind of education pursuit, not all teaching. Of the books you shared, we've read Between The World And Me. I lately finished Hillbilly Elegy, and learned from both. Thanks for the list. I'll share with my group!

  4. Mary Ann, it is good to hear about your book group and the union of fellow women who spend the night discussing literature and life over a meal. Great thought: Way leads on to way if we stay open to chance, opportunity, and other


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