No two persons ever read the same book
While there is a wealth of street traders selling dog-eared copies of classics and shiny sensational paperbacks, many of these are poorly translated, missing pages, or badly printed. More solid bookstores in Saigon have improved, but demand for English language books is still low, and finding a good read can be a daunting prospect for a bookworm.
Enter the expat book club of the International Ladies in Vietnam group. Reshmi Ganguly, the current co-curator of the club, has been a member for two years, as the group embarks upon monthly literary journeys across the world. “Every second Monday of the month, at 12pm, we meet at the Hideaway Café in District 3 to discuss that month’s volume. To be honest we are also ladies who lunch, and it can take some time before we get round to discussion of the book,” she says.
Books are chosen in the usual manner; each member suggests a title, and each month the group votes on which book they would like to read next. After this, the logistical procurement of the book comes into play. “Our members travel a lot, which is fortunate, because we can make them our book mules! They’ll pick up multiple copies while abroad, or bring one back to copy here. We’re currently reading Emma Donoghue’s Room. Donoghue created the story after hearing about Joseph Fritzl, and tells the story of a boy who has grown up in captivity with his kidnapped and abused mother, only ever knowing the confines of a single room. It is a really harrowing book, but the ending is a hopeful one. Those are my favorite type of books, books that make you confront yourself, but that also offer hope at the end. My favorite book is probably The Shack by William P. Young. It is also distressing, telling the story of a family that loses their young daughter to a serial killer, and the father’s emotional journey and discovery of a very personal God.”
Every member brings a similar enthusiasm for a particular genre or style, creating the great variety (and disagreement) that can be found in the book club. “Book clubs force you to expand your genres, they push you out of your comfort zone, and you can find real enjoyment in books that you would never have thought to read on your own,” says Reshmi. “We read a wide range of genres, from 18th century classics, to really modern and innovative works, and also occasionally biographies and other non-fiction books.” Not everyone has to agree and stylistic differences do often come up. “The person who suggested the book opens the discussion, and we then bounce off each other. We talk about and analyze characters, style, themes, but it does get more personal than that. Many members often feel strong connections to the characters and we can get into some heated debate!”
One member of the book club is even an author herself. J Mairy Dietch wrote The Neverending Love, which the club, of course, discussed. “Mariette has written two books, both have been published in French and English, and it’s great to have an author as part of our group, it was a really interesting discussion.” The book club welcomes all members to contribute and discuss, and the different perspectives that come together in a book club ensure that the story lives on with you long after you turn the last page.