On the Challenges (and Joys) of Running a Chicago-based Arabic Book Club

Chicago-based translator and interpreter Timothy Friese (timothyfriese.com) answered questions about the Chicago Arabic Book Club that he helps run:

clubWhere do you meet? How did you find members? Is it open to others who’d like to join?

Timothy Friese: We meet in the coffee shop New Wave in Chicago, which has food and drink and is open late enough and has enough space in the evenings for our meetings. We’ve tried a restaurant before and I find a coffee shop to be more comfortable.

What books have you read?

TF: We’ve read مذكرات امرأة غير واقعية/ Memoirs of an Unrealistic Woman by Sahar Khalifeh, أبواب المدينة / City Gates by Elias Khoury, الوقئع الغريبة في اختفاء سعيد أبي النحس المتشائل / The Secret Life of Saeed: The Pessoptimist by Emil Habibi, and our next reading is كلنا بعيد بذات المقدار عن الحب / We Are All Equally Far From Love by Adania Shibli.

Which books resonated most and made the best discussions? How do the discussions work?

TF: Funnily enough I think City Gates, which we liked the least, made for the most interesting discussion, because we had to work more to figure out what it was doing as a novel and why we didn’t like it.

How do you choose the books?

TF: The first few have been books that I had been looking forward to reading or re-reading for a long time, including Sahar Khalifeh’s Memoirs of an Unrealistic Woman which was one of the first novels I read in Arabic and one that very much rewards a second reading. I’m now taking requests from other readers of what they want to read and will be able to branch out a bit from what I usually read, which is recent Palestinian and Lebanese literature.

Is finding copies ever a problem? Do you rely on PDFs at all?

TF: Finding copies is nearly impossible. So far I have owned a copy of everything we have read and so we can make use of PDFs.

How would you like the group to grow and develop?

TF: I’m looking forward to continuing reading a work every month or two and growing to be a small group of half a dozen or so who come at least every other month.

How can someone join?

TF: The best way is via the meetup group at http://www.meetup.com/Chicago-Arabic-Book-Club/, but anyone who is interested can always contact me via <timothy.friese – at – gmail.com> as well. Thanks!

Also: “On October 11th, the Chicago Arabic Book Club will be discussing وحدها شجرة الرمان (The Corpse Washer) at the Ipsento 606 coffee shop in Chicago. All are welcome!”