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When I was given the chance to start my own book club at the Belmont Library, I chose international authors as my topic, because I thought it would be a great way to learn about other countries and cultures.
We call it “Reading Around the World” because it gives us the opportunity to visit new and different places while reading great books. In addition to our collections in Spanish, Hindi, Russian, Chinese and Japanese, San Mateo County Library collects books translated from a variety of different languages, written by authors from all over the world.
Smorgasbord of Choices
So far the book club has read books from such diverse places as Norway (Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson), Japan (The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa), and Israel (A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev).
The books gave us all a little glimpse into what it might have been like to be a ghostwriter for a ghostwriter for a ghostwriter in World War I London (Pandora in the Congo by Albert Sanchez-Pinol), a recovering alcoholic detective in Oslo (Nemesis by Jo Nesbo) or a young European woman during 9/11 (When I Forgot by Elena Hirvonen).
The people in my book club bring their own experiences and backgrounds, including their travels to some of the places we read about. For instance, we just read The Secret Son by Moroccan author Laila Lalami. One of our members had visited Morocco, so she could tell us about driving past the slums where the novel’s main character lived. It made the experience of the book much more real.
Even when no one has been to a country, one person does a little research on the country before each meeting, so we all learn something new. For instance, over half of the population of Norway suffers from depression.
Where Are We Going?
Our next books will take us from Kenya (Unbowed: A Memoir by Wangari Maathai) to Brazil (Alone in the Crowd by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza) to Burma (Smile as They Bow by Nu Nu Yi). I know very little about these places and may never get to see them in person, but to go there in a book can be a terrific adventure.
Meredith Burke Hammons works at Central Administration and on Sundays at Half Moon Bay. She enjoys cycling, kayaking, reading, writing, and research.