This is a blog post but not about a book. Well, it’s sort of about a book—The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht. A strange book that I wish I could rave about as much as the reviews I’ve read. The story is set in the Balkans from World War II to the Balkan Wars of the early 1990s—certainly a hard-pressed region fraught with a darkness that is the pervasive theme of the book. Told in flashbacks, Obreht weaves fables throughout the story, from the deathless man to the deaf-mute who can commune with the escaped tiger from the war-ravaged zoo.
But this post is not about the book. This is about the book club who read the book—a library book group which is a unique gathering of people who have no initial bond other than a love of reading. The books are assigned, no choice here. The Tiger’s Wife was on too many of “The Best of 2011” lists to be ignored, so I picked it for our library book club—lovers of a meaty, well-written book. We met our match in this pick. But in the frustration of our discussion—trying to sort out the symbolism, the reality of death and “What was the point of Darisa the Bear?”—I came to realize the power of the message was not in the book but in our group. I loved each comment, question or even wisecrack: “In my travels carrying this book around I was hoping that no one would ask me what it was about—because I did not know!” All that we shared to understand the book was really a tribute to the legion of book clubs that find personal growth in the shared experience of literature. No one had to read this book (and, by confession, many did not finish it), yet our group of 15 felt a bond to the other members to come and work through the book together. I marveled at the depth that some found in the passages that I had glossed over.
As each contributed a small gem, we came to sort out the larger meaning—at least I think we did. What I know is that the depth of intellect and emotion that is found in all of our discussions has brought together a group that did not have an initial bond, to a group that has now found camaraderie in personal enrichment. Consider joining a book group—most Johnson County libraries have one. It’s a place to find yourself, make a friend, and discover that some books are just better than others.