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Book Club

About eight weeks ago, I was on the phone with my mum, decrying the overwhelming boredom that I was experiencing at the beginning of quarantine. In passing, she suggested that I start a book club. I was hesitant. I have had a lifelong love of books but I had never really thought how they could be social, beyond conversations focused on trying to seem sophisticated by recommending books that sounded impressive. Despite my qualms, I had to live up to my reputation as the world’s greatest son and decided to listen to my mum. My first stop was, the basis of my entire social life. I made tweet asking if anyone was interested, expecting to only get responses from a couple of friends. Instead, I received a torrent of responses, many from people I didn’t even know. It was clear that an online book club felt like a way to connect with people, from friends to strangers. I decided that ten was a good number for the book club.

Over the next eight weeks, our group spent an hour every single week in a Zoom call chatting about Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It's the story of an immigrant family over several generations, starting in their home country and following their immigration to the land of their colonizers. With each generation, the family has an increasingly complex relationship with their home country of Korea and then their new country of Japan where they're never fully accepted or seen as belonging. 

By experiencing the book with a group of people from families of immigrants, I felt like I was able to get closer to the text. We each were able to relate to different characters and parts of the book, drawing comparisons to our own families’ struggles with colonialism and immigration. Unlike high school English class, which was often a pedantic fight for participation points by namedropping literary terms, our discussions were aimed at finding deeper meaning in the work. We would see the characters as real people, attempting to empathize with their struggles and trauma, wondering how we would’ve handled what they went through. At the same time, we learned about Korean and Japanese history, a world we had never really thought much about.

Although we initially started with a goal of reading a light, happy book that would help us escape the stresses of the world, we ended up experiencing an incredible amount of tragedy and sadness within the novel. Yet, through all of those negative emotions, we were able to connect with the characters and with each other. More than anything else, the book club gave me an opportunity to meet and get to know people on a different level. Even though we didn’t spend much time talking about our lives outside of the book, our discussions revealed parts of our hearts and lives that we normally wouldn’t share in other contexts.

To start each meeting, I made sure to come up with weird icebreakers (“what food would you want to bathe in?”) to bring some levity to counteract the intensity of the book. By learning about our food baths or our go-to karaoke songs, we gained more complete pictures of each other. With each passing week, our meeting felt a little less like an obligation and some of us would stick around a little later than usual to just chat. With each passing week, it felt a little bit more like I was with a group of friends.

We’re starting another book soon with a few new people. I’m excited for the adventures that we will soon embark on, and the new connections we’ll forge.

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.”
― Mark Twain
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Virtually yours,

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Nikhil · 325327 Georgia Tech Station · Atlanta, GA 30332 · USA

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