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Just before lockdown one of my lovely colleagues suggested that we should start a book club at work. Now, despite what my job and academic background may suggest ( librarian, PhD in literature..), I was never part of a book club, so I was pretty excited to start one out.
When lockdown happened, we moved our meetings online, and it has been a great relief from the whole weirdness of the situation we were in, to just be able to escape for an hour or so, to chat about something that was not the news, sourdough attempts, and anxiety.
In the last two years I have read books that I would never have picked myself because, a) I am a snob, b) I am also a lazy snob. I have spent the majority of my life reading – hey I am so good at it that I got a PhD in books!! – and a high percentage of this time reading books that would fit in the following environments: 1) academia, 2) cool places outside academia but still full of academics who need to show how anti-academia they are. In such places you will never mention that the book on your bedside table is currently also sold in Tesco and WH Smith. One has a reputation, after all. Funnily enough, for the duration of my PhD I did not read that much fiction. The main reasons for this was that I did not have time (whoever tells you that doing a PhD and working at the same time is easy is LYING), and the little time I had was devoted to reading literary criticism and various theories that would then help me deconstruct any text I would read, to carefully devoid any enjoyment out of it, and then be able to say which section of the population it was offending. When I submitted my thesis, I picked one of the many books that had remained untouched on my bookcases, and taught myself to read again. Or rather, attempted to teach myself how to read purely for fun.
So when one of my colleagues at work launched the idea of the book club, I was immediately intrigued. I took the lead, because I am an organising freak and a loud Italian, and we set up our first meeting. Then Covid happened, and the meeting had to move online. The challenges of organising a book club for a bunch of librarians are more than you would expect. For starters, is the one occasion in which librarians get loud (that, and the Christmas night out..). Everyone has the perfect book(s) for it and insist that we read that one first. So we established a sort of rota to give everyone the opportunity to present their chosen book. It was great! I had the chance to spend time with my colleagues in a different way, it was a great bonding activity for our team, and I really went out of my comfort zone (in reading terms), and read some absolutely fabulous books in the process. What’s not to love?
If you have the opportunity and your lovely team agrees to it, I would definitely recommend going for it! To me, it was definitely one of the best things to come out of lockdown.
Looking for some reading inspo? Here are some of the books we read:
The Island of the Missing Trees by Elif Shafak
This was a big hit! Shafak is a wonderful storyteller, and you will learn so much about the history of Cyprus.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
WOW – Magical realism meets gothic. If you are a fan of both genres, this one is for you.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
This is one of my favourite books of all times. Somebody called it the other side of Gone with the Wind, which I think is a pretty good description.
The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Think of a remote Norwegian island in the 17th century – all the men have died at sea, the women are left to fend for themselves. Then, a sinister man arrives. Go on, I know you are intrigued.
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso
The story of two neighbours in their eighties, one black and one white, in post-apartheid South Africa. Beautiful, funny, moving.