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Dear Reader

 …I tried starting a gang once, it turned into a book club…

Book clubs turn an insular hobby into a more social one. They foster camaraderie, debate and can inspire us to try new authors and genres. Reading is one of life’s simplest pleasures. Books provide adventure in an armchair and fire up the imagination. In a world of increasing electronic distractions, where serious debate is limited by twitter and expressions reduced to emojis, reading can discipline the mind to concentrate and consider new viewpoints. We should be required to read a book for every 10 selfies we take.

What makes a good book? The answers are as varied and numerous as there are books. Characters that you fall in love with and root for until the end, electrifying stories that you can’t put down or inspiration to get you through a bad patch. It depends on moods, your time of life and background. The book club has introduced me to writers I had never even heard of, which I have enjoyed immensely, and introduced me to a whole range of useful topics like free libraries, which now also serve as the home for my pre-loved books.

Good books never really end; they stay with you for ages and float in your imagination, with quotes that inspire you. You can lose yourself in a good book and find yourself as well.  Bad books should be flung across a room ( for closure) or if thick enough should be used as door stops. And with bad books, unlike with people who annoy you, you can just shut them and move on.

We all read for different reasons, for pleasure, escapism, inspiration and edification. Reading can fit into the crevices of your day. I only found the time and energy to start reading again once my daughter started school and began sleeping through the night. I find myself drawn to short books. Do thick books tell better stories or are they just verbose and  a waste of time? Shortest Booker prize winner – “The Sense of an Ending “at 163 pages by Julian Barnes and the longest “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton at a whopping 832. I do have that book, and yes, I use it as a door stop.

Short stories are often an underrated medium, but are great when you don’t have much time or just need a break.  A bit like speed dating, writers sometimes use them as a precursor to a novel, yet others use them as their sole medium. The best ones are neat and compact, do not rely on literary devices and can cover the shortest period and yet be profound.  I have discovered some good ones, but am still looking for the great one.

At the book club, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We all have different opinions about the book we’ve read and that’s great. No two people ever read the same book. Our views are coloured by our experiences, our history and our personalities. There is no judgment, just listening and consideration and yes, debate. There appear to be a few arbitrary rules: no romance novels, no serious classics (the stuff you had to read in school), also no mysteries and no vampire/ zombie books. The rest is fair game.

We come from different backgrounds, countries, professions and all have our own stories (which perhaps are more interesting than the ones we read about). So if you ever find yourself on a certain Saturday afternoon looking for inspiring conversation about books and reading, you are more than welcome to join our band of readers – we are on facebook (Delft Bookclub)  and have an email group too.

Happy summer.

Free libraries in Delft:

  • Ones around Hof Van Delft:
    • Adriaan Pauwstraat 74
    • Laan Van Overvest 44
    • Dirklangenstraat 40

And also a couple here

and one here:

Fiction and literary essays online / literary magazines

www.granta.com

www.newyorker.com (but with a monthly limit)

The Guardian weekly book review email – bookmarks

www.goodreads.com – for reviews and ratings of books

And don’t forget that the DOK library in Delft also has a good selection of adult fiction in English.

Amanda lives in Delft and when not hanging out with her 5 year old, tends to her balcony garden and continues her quest for the perfect short story (and the perfect chocolate cake).

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Some of my favorite books by female authors

There are so many authors and readers in our Delft MaMa community that I felt inspired today to write about women writers. Books have always been one of my passions. At one stage growing up, I would finish my homework and then devour a book a night. These days, I do not have the luxury of finishing a book a day, but I generally manage to carve out some time from my busy schedule to read. Believing in the power of literature and being enamored of a wide range of authors, I, however, find it jarring to see how much the literary world still reflects biases in our society. Female authors are reviewed less often reviewed than their male counterparts, and fiction written by men or about men is more likely to receive literary awards. Furthermore, a large swath of popular novels by women are deemed less worthy of praise than more “serious” literature, generally written by men, as shown in this exchange.

With so many exciting and excellent female writers to choose from and with the summer holidays around the corner, I decided to make a short list of some of my favorite works of fiction from the last fifty years by female authors. Over the upcoming holiday, perhaps you can spend some of your well deserved rest and relaxation time discovering one of these gems. The list idea is inspired by the Guardian’s weekly Top Ten book series, which I also highly recommend.

I will start my list with a Arundhati Roy, an Indian author and activist, whose first work of fiction in twenty years will be published next week. Before you dive into her new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, I would recommend taking the time to read her spellbinding The God of Small Things. Set in Southern India, this novel shows how a series of prejudices linked to class, gender, and religion combine to produce a tragic outcome. Its evocative, lyrical prose is made all the more vivid by the fact that the story is told through the eyes of two children, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel. This evocative book was the first Indian novel to win the Man Booker Prize, and I am sure it will linger in your mind long after you reach the last page.

Elena Ferrante’s engrossing Neapolitan Novels (My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child) follow Elena (Lenù) and Raffaella (Lila) from girlhood in a tough Neapolitan neighborhood through many twists and turns to arrive at old age. Ferrante masterfully paints a portrait of a friendship that is both a source of strength and anguish and examines the inner lives of her characters with lucid intelligence. Ferrante has never revealed her identity, considering her biography irrelevant to her fiction. Unfortunately, a journalist recently reported to have unmasked the “real” Elena Ferrante, an endeavor that many describe as sexist.

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories offers a refreshing perspective on traditional European fairy tales and their underlying themes. Carter’s heroines are not helpless damsels in distress but strong, independent characters that define their own destinies. Her depictions bring to light the sensual dimensions underlying most of these traditional tales and her gorgeous, gothic prose is a joy to read.

Another collection of short stories that I would strongly recommend is Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America. These excellently crafted stories delve into the everyday of lives of people, most often women, to find deeper meaning. The prose is subtle and minimalist, especially if compared to that of Carter, but the stories manage to pack a true emotional punch. For example, the poignant “People Like That Are The Only People Here” brings the reader inside the painful reality of life for parents of a child diagnosed with cancer.

In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale become a bestseller again. Atwood’s dystopian vision documents the life of Offred in Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship that subjugates women. The story is a page-turner and a frightening prediction of where the dogma of limiting women’s rights and wilfully destroying the environment could lead. If you are interested to find out more about this prolific Canadian author, the New Yorker recently published an intriguing profile of Atwood.

Another page turner, but one based in the past rather than an imagined future, is Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. Mantel plunges the reader into the intrigues of King Henry VIII’s Court and brilliantly portrays the ambitious Thomas Cromwell. Her prose is vivid, and the tale is thrilling enough that the reader never feels overwhelmed by the large cast of historical characters. Wolf Hall and its sequel Bring Up The Bodies both won the Man Booker prize. The third and final part of the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, has yet to be released.

Penelope Fitzgerald only published her first book at the age of 58, but her late blossoming career left us with a remarkable body of work. One case in point is The Blue Flower, a short but elegant novel that immerses the reader in moments of the life of the 18th century German poet Novalis. Fitzgerald shares a multiplicity of sensations and meanings through a series of vignettes, but the tale retains an aura of mystery that will keep you searching for what the blue flower truly represents long after you have put the book down.

On the fence between journalism and fiction writing is the work of Svetlana Alexievich, the 2015 Nobel Prize in Fiction Winner. In Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, Alexievich weaves together interview segments to show how the collapse of the Soviet Union impacted everyday citizens. Many qualify Alexievich’s work as oral history, but she prefers to call her literary technique, “a novel in voices.” No matter how you classify the book, it offers a remarkable and compassionate portrait of post-Soviet society.

I have read all of the extremely talented Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s works, and my favorite is her powerful account of the Nigerian Civil War, Half of a Yellow Sun. Rather than focus on battles or glory, Adichie offers a devastating assessment of the disappointment and violence wrought by this conflict. You may also be familiar with Adichie from her TED talk on why we should all be feminists.

The list would not be complete without a work by the brilliant 1993 Nobel Prize laureate, Toni Morrison. Beloved, a virtuosic novel in every sense, tells the tale of former slave Sethe and her process of “rememory.” It is even more tragic to note that the book is based on an actual case from the 1850s. For those interested in the topic of the value of work or how work relates identity, I also encourage you to read a short piece by Morrison from this week’s New Yorker.

Additional resources :

For the very ambitious, the New York City Library created a list of 365 Books by Women Authors to Celebrate International Women’s Day All Year.

Danielle Dutton recommends her top ten Top 10 Books About Wild Women.

Marta Baussels lists 10 Inspiring Female Authors that You Need to Read.

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