I’ve participated in a couple book clubs over the years, but the best book club by far was one that I was in during my early professional years. A group of women from our office, we worked at a university in the area of international education, banded together and came up with a great plan for the best book club ever.
Obviously, we didn’t call it that, but we were all bookish types of various stripes so reading was a good connection. We created a book club that would let us read good books, eat good food, and discuss. It turned out to be the best book club that I’ve ever participated in. (So, I do actually call it that.)
It’s pretty simple.
Plan the Best Book Club
- Each of us recommended a couple books that we had read that were set in places around the world.
- We agreed on a short list of books that we would read – one book each month.
- As many of us that were available met at a local restaurant that specialized in cuisine from that country or region each month and discussed the book that we had read.
That’s it. Global reads and eats plus good discussion – what’s not to love?
We did have some advantage being located in a larger city – thus, more authentic restaurant options and more diverse countries and regions represented – but this could be adjusted as needed.
Alternatives for a Global Book Club
Here are two ways I think you could adjust this model if eating out once a month is not an option or if restaurant selections aren’t widely varied.
- Host the book club in a home and have everyone bring one dish that they know is from the country or region of the book setting.
- Create your book list using the regional choices that you do have in your area. If you have a Chinese restaurant, then choose several books set in China. Same with Mexican food or Italian food. Play to the strengths of your community and go deep with one country – maybe you’ll make some new friends along the way!
If the international read it/eat it combo sounds like a good idea, and you have some friends ready to start, then the book recommendations below can get you started. As always, Pinterest is a great options for book reviews – LLL has a board set aside specifically for Read the World.
If money wasn’t an issue, I’d recommend reading a book and then visiting the country for an authentic perspective. Ah, dreams!
In any case,
A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backman (Sweden)
Backman’s name and work is well-known (and many people love all his books!). Though I didn’t *love* A Man Called Ove, it is a great book for discussions. Most people I know did enjoy the story so I’m the outlier on this one. A curmudgeon tries to plan his death but a new neighbor thwarts his plans. His quirky antics and her stubborn neighborliness clash in the best possible ways.
The Woman Next Door by Yewande Omotoso (South Africa)
Two neighbors, and sworn enemies, feed their hostility with gusto. Recently widowed, both successful women, one black and one white, and each envious of the other for a different reason, mix together for a stark look at what we choose to let divide us and what we allow to unite us. The Woman Next Door combines good storytelling and an occasional punch-in-the-gut for the reader. Are these women too old to change or are they now at the right place to begin a friendship?
Small Country by Gäel Faye (Burundi)
The setting is Burundi in 1992 and 10-year-old Gabriel is living the good life. Soon the gathering storm of civil war in neighboring Rwanda will spill over to his country and dramatically alter his life. A coming-of-age story in remarkable circumstances blends the good times with the bad and the laughter with the fear. A short but dramatic story.
The Library of Legends by Jamie Chang (China)
Part historical fiction, part mythology, and a dash of romance make this book a good blend of conversation angles for a group discussion. Chinese students, including our protagonist Hu Lian, must leave their university in order to seek shelter from Japanese air raids. It is a walk of a thousand miles. Lian’s group conveys a precious and ancient treasure, a 500-year-old collection of stories known as the Library of Legends, to its next safe place. Along the way they must learn who to trust and how to survive.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall (India)
This is a contemporary but good ol’ fashioned murder mystery. Detective Vish Puri investigates a poisoning that seems to be connected with a cricket gambling operation. History, inter-cultural nuance, and family dynamics all come to play in this classic whodunit story.
Three Apples Fell from the Sky by Narine Abgaryan (Armenia)
This is a thin book and perhaps the most literary of the group, in addition to the next one. A woman ages on an isolated mountain top. The reader meets her on the day she prepares for her death. The reader ends as she welcomes new life. This is a character-driven read and a beautiful study of community, endurance, the blessing of age, and the hopefulness of youth.
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (Vietnam)
I’ve written a much longer review of The Mountains Sing here. It is such a good story! Definitely a longer book so you may need to break it into sections, but a powerful and thought-provoking story.
Okay, now you have everything you need to plan the best book club ever! Grab your friends, agree on a couple books, and set the dates for a local restaurant. Good reads, good discussion, and good food, amen!