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Learning about ourselves and others through books: Book clubs in Fort Collins

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Azar Nafisi, in her bestselling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, says of her time reading books with her Iranian students, “I am amazed at how much we learned without noticing it. We were, to borrow from Nabokov, to experience how the ordinary pebble of ordinary life could be transformed into a jewel through the magic eye of fiction.”

It is always rewarding to read a good book, to find something in written language that speaks to us and our understanding of the world. But this experience is enhanced, especially for Nafisi, by sharing those discoveries in reading with friends. This experience is something that you cannot get just by reading a book on your own. You need to share your thoughts, your experience, with others.

Here in Fort Collins, there are many ways for you to share your love of books. Book clubs are a great way to get involved in both a book and your community, sharing the impact of a great work of literature with others.  Old Firehouse Books in Old Town gives you tons of opportunities to participate in book clubs, no matter what your taste in literature. The bookstore currently offers five book clubs, including a “Strange Worlds Book Club” for science fiction lovers, an “Open Book Club” if you want to learn the most classic and popular books of our time, and even the “Cooking the Books” book club, for those who would rather spend more time in the kitchen than curled up on the couch with a novel.

Want to put together your own book club? Not a problem. If you have a group already discussing books, or if you want to build up a small reading group, you can register your book club at Old Firehouse Books. Not only will the bookstore make sure that each book you study is available, each book will be discounted 20% to book club members. Not only can you get your new club organized, your members will be able to participate for a good price.

If you are looking for a more dynamic book club experience, you do not have to restrict yourself to just written pages. Starting this year, Lyric Cinema Café is holding a monthly book and movie club. This club will explore literary works, and the Lyric will show these books’ film adaptations on the fourth Tuesday of each month. This gives the reader a multi-dimensional view of one story, moving the experience of narrative beyond the page and into new visual mediums.

Whether you are part of a club organized by a bookstore or other organization, or if you just meet a few friends in your living room every once in a while, sharing a good book with others leads to an enhancement of the reading experience. Hearing the ideas of others, while at the same time finding out how universal written works can be, gives a whole new perspective to reading a book.

Azar Nafisi used literary works to bring together a group of women in post-revolutionary Iran. Through books, these women were able to discover something about themselves and their collective lives. Literature gave them a lens through which they could understand themselves. Through book clubs it is possible for us, in our own way, to come together. In sharing a book, we can share a collective experience that is both enlightening and memorable. Make sure to utilize some of the many resources our town has available to get involved in this unique reading experience.

We make the story by telling!

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“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.”

Confronting your past, and bravely telling your story (no matter how different you may feel) can help you realize that nobody is actually normal!  That’s what Jeannette Walls talked about on Monday night at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins.  Ms. Walls discussed her memoir The Glass Castle, and her nomadic childhood with eccentric parents who often seemed to make abnormal choices about raising their family.  Her book describes the sometimes bizarre episodes in her life, but Walls was here to celebrate her survival.  She’s not afraid to tell the truth about her life now, although for years she lived in fear that her friends and colleagues would reject her if they learned the details of same life.  She spent many years feeling ashamed that her family was not like other families, but now believes that even when people seem to have “perfect lives,” that probably isn’t true.  Her advice is that if we set aside the stereotypes that blind us to seeing people as individuals, we will see a world full of people all doing the same thing—doing their magnificent best to survive their circumstances.

Ms. Walls is compelled to read reviews of her book at Amazon.com, since they add to her process of self-discovery through writing and promoting her book.  I looked up one entry that she talked about.  The comment was made by beckybramer who knew Walls and her family while growing up in West Virginia, and she writes, “As I read, I was filled with sorrow and shame because I was one of those people who didn’t want to have close association with them because they were so different from me. I try to assuage my guilt by telling myself I saw things from a child’s maturity level.  I wish I could apologize and find myself wondering what would have happened if I had befriended Jeanette.  She could have enriched my li[f]e tremendously.”

This exchange makes me think about how important it is to build personal connections in our own community.  To be successful, we have to include as many people as possible in defining who we think we are as a group.  Who are we excluding because we believe they are too different to care about?  Ms. Walls was not always an eloquent, humorous, and successful journalist, gossip columnist, and writer.  She has learned from both sides of the issue, that people who think they are better than others, miss the mark.  She successfully argues that one of the most basic things people have in common, is that we all have a story—and most stories have parts we might wish to leave out.  Ms. Walls is convinced that if we bother to see the complexities in individual experience, and face the truths of our lives, we raise the odds of experiencing the true joy of living together.  In case you’re wondering, after reading the Amazon post, Walls contacted beckybramer–not to accept an apology or express her pain, but to connect with her as a person and share their stories!

Many people in the audience at Lincoln Center, attended the Jeannette Walls event with other members of their book club.  So here’s a shout out to all the book clubs that meet in the Fort Collins area—it was great fun to see so many readers out in the open!  Whether or not you belong to a book club, you have opportunities to read with others in our community.  On November 7-8, T. C. Boyle will be in our town to discuss his novel, Tortilla Curtain.  Get your copy soon, so that you can join in this community-wide book club!  Since 2002, Fort Collins Reads has encouraged multigenerational residents to read and meet each other.  Each year, books are selected to engage both adults and teens, and this year’s readings add to our community discussion on immigration.

So here’s to being together! Remember, the more stories you give away, the more stories you’ll have!

“Things usually work out in the end.”

“What if they don’t?”
“That just means you haven’t come to the end yet.”
— Jeannette Walls (The Glass Castle: A Memoir)

Thanks to B a m s h a d for the great reflection photo.

Deborah Lombard