Thursday, December 29, 2005

'Tehran' Author Plans Online Book Club

Jenny Clevstrom, USA Today:
A decade ago in Iran, where reading certain books is an act of political courage, Azar Nafisi, a literature professor, organized a secret reading group for students in her apartment. After emigrating to the USA in 1997, she wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, a best seller that has become popular among reading groups that don't have to meet in secret.

Now, Nafisi, who teaches at Johns Hopkins University's School of International Studies in Washington, D.C., is planning an international online book club. She hopes it will be "a place for genuine debate." READ MORE

In a world that she says has become too politicized, she wants to create a "domain of imagination that is not political. ... Read Shakespeare or (Margaret) Atwood. We don't know if they are Republicans."

Details of her online book club are being worked out. By spring, she hopes to organize free online discussions about books and authors.

The discussions, Nafisi says, will focus on writers who initially may seem unrelated. However, they can be discussed as part of larger themes.

For example, she hopes to contrast Jon Stewart's satirical textbook, America (the Book), with Allan Bloom's Shakespeare on Love and Friendship, to give the rest of the world a taste of American diversity. Or, the club will compare Atwood, the Canadian novelist, with human-rights activist Samantha Power and their approaches to human rights.

A book club "is a gold mine in terms of creating ideas" and getting people to communicate, she says. That's true both in Iran, where books that are considered subversive are banned, and in the USA, where "everything is so polarized that you have very little room for debate and understanding."