Special! Five Chennai book clubs share how reading leads to discussions, travel and more
With Book Lovers Day coming up on November 2, we catch up with the city’s bibliophiles, to reaffirm that our city celebrates books in more ways than one. From meeting up in a 200-year-old library in College Road to long conversations over wine on thickening plots — books clubs abound in Chennai, if you know where to look. Some of these gatherings are so tightly knit in membership that they even have ‘virtual’ attendance from faraway lands. The discussions we know from experience comprise riveting narratives that cover the evolution of humankind (Sapiens) to politics and even a dose of poetic prose (Amor Towles). And if we’re being honest, since these are ladies by majority, there is plenty of sisterhood packed into these chapters, with juicy gossip serving as footnotes. Following their paper trail, we find ourselves en route libraries, living rooms and even the occasional wine cellar.
Stairway to reading
Last week, when Shvetha Jaishankar shared pictures of her visit to the more than 200-year-old Lello Bookstore in Porto — the world’s oldest book store — we couldn’t help but sigh wistfully. “I love browsing through books and hence my trip to Porto was planned around this landmark. Of course, the place has become a bigger tourist attraction since J K Rowling declared that the Grand Staircase was inspired by the staircase here!” says Shvetha, who is incidentally also the author of Gorgeous: Eat Well Look Great and one of the founders of the book club, Book Cellar (2011). As the name suggests, the first session did have copious amounts of wine along with a discussion on Prisoner No: 100 by Anjum Zamarud Habib. A fun book club of about a dozen women from various walks of life, the Book Cellar is currently reading Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari and The Prince by Samhita Arni. “We’ve seen members through babies, marriages, breakups, and brought together friends and strangers from different walks of life, with one common interest — good food, with a side of books,” says Malavika Nambiar, who is currently based in America but continues to be part of the group virtually! The members include a music teacher, authors, entrepreneurs, homemakers and a yoga instructor, among others. They pick Black Flags by Joby Warrick as their favourite non-fiction and Amor Towles’ Gentleman in Moscow from the fiction section.
Leaving on a jet plane
Silverfish, a group of 16, takes it further — and is celebrating their 11th anniversary with a trip to Sri Lanka where they plan to discuss The Undoing Dance by Srividya Natarajan. One of the founding members of the book club, Jaya Narain Mahbubani, who teaches at the Goethe Institut, tells us how they have also had sessions at the Madras Literary Society, the 200-year-old library on College Road. What’s more, Jaya along with two other members of this club have collaborated and written a book of their own, which is waiting to be published! The members include entrepreneurs, teachers and writers. This is a paid membership — where the kitty is used for their meetings and for other expenses incurred as a group. “We have closed our membership now — as we find that we are more friends than just book club members. Yes, books will always bind us together — but we are also part of each other’s lives as friends now.”
Where are the men?
Shazia Andaleeb, freelance journalist and full-time mom of three, tells us how they started The Inklings late last year. Though they wanted it to be a coed book club, so that the conversation stayed varied and threw up diverse viewpoints — the two men who joined have yet to turn up for a single meeting! “We’ve been trying to follow suggestions from the Read Harder Challenge,” shares Shazia, while she cites The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery for sparking the most conversation. The group of 10 includes a home baker, filmmaker, entrepreneurs, teacher and others.
Must love books
Started in 2008, this one has 38 members and they are currently reading Newcomer by Keigo Higashino. Rukmini Amirapu, a freelance copy editor cum author — is the coordinator of Book Lovers Group and tells us that they meet once a month. “We read one title read every month,” she says, adding how most of them read both physical and Kindle reads. One of the members here cites her favourite bookstores as Blossom Book House in Bengaluru and Bahri Sons, New Delhi. The former is a quaint and popular store for pre-loved books down Church Street in the City of Gardens.
Wine and wisdom
Sharon Suares tells us that her seven-year-old book club of about 10 women has not thought of a name for the group yet. They meet once a month and are currently reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. “Our wine club has a book problem is our unofficial motto,” says Sharon with a laugh, while adding that one of their favourites was Educated by Tara Westover. “Educated was a difficult book to read but we were unable to put it down. Tara was 17 before she stepped into a classroom and went on to become a Gates scholar and get her degrees from Cambridge and Harvard. Our book club discussions centred a lot on mental health, abuse and what is real education? And what in the Westover children’s childhood gave them that toughness to succeed,” shares the graphic designer.