So, The Tossed Salad Book Club meet in Pune had a roaring start. More than 40 people turned up. Anyone in social networking knows, no matter how many RSVPs, but if even 15 turn up for an esoteric event like this, it is a success.
A large part of credit for the successful meet goes to the presence of Amish Tripathi, the author of the book ‘The Immortals of Meluha’, which we were meeting to discuss.
Sahil Khan, who runs an online lifestyle magazine called ‘The Tossed Salad’ took initiative and talked to a famous bookstore, Landmark for venue. Since group was big, a big venue was required. A list of 6 books covering different genres was drawn and one that won was ‘Immortals of Meluha’. Sahil then surprised us by inviting the author Amish Tripathi as the guest for the book club.
We began the first ever book club meet with just 12 people. I invited introductions of all members and asking what did they expect from the book club. Soon, more people walked in. There was a crowd of people at back who stood up for the entire time of the discussion.
It was an interesting discussion ranging on theories of reincarnation, mythology, Indus valley civilisation, divinity, philosophy. Lot of questions were put up to Amish, some of them ranging from his personal philosophical beliefs, historical references and his own motivation for writing the book way he did. And Amish
answered each one of them with meticulous details. One and half hour flied very quickly and I could still see raised hands to ask more questions. I was reluctant to close it but Sahil stepped up. So, I quickly took charge and announced the book for next meet and an invitation to new ones to join the book club.
Lot of people did come up later asking for book club details. I wrote details for several of them at the back of their books. So, the first discussion did serve its purpose – was engaging and inviting.
I was happy that discussion was successful and interesting. At the same time, I was mortified and helpless as a moderator for the afternoon.
1. Did we discuss how the lead character had panned out? His characteristics? Were his motivations for undertaking responsibility convincing? How was his relationship with other characters? How important were action scenes and war strategies in the book? Were they effective? Did the book affect you in any way? What was the writing style like? Were the details visual and convincing? Comparisons/similarities with other books? NO! We discussed lot of philosophy, but book itself was NEVER discussed.
2. Did the members talk to EACH OTHER? Were there arguments/counterpoints, agreements and disagreements? NO! Rather everyone had a question for Amish – some them oft-repeated as what books did you read for your research (it had the oft-repeated answer that he learnt from family and read mythology all his life. In a way, it was life-long research.), when was second book coming out (there was an overwhelming interest – yours truly too is guilty about that.) and other superficial or too ahead questions like – Which is one man you can think of who can take Mahadev’s role today?
As a moderator, I take complete responsibility that it did not turn out as how a book club meet should be. In latter half, I let it go – it became an author question and answer session. I made a choice, not the one I liked. I did quick math – I realised the following:
1. To be fair, audience was more eager to ask Amish a question. Amish, to his credit, did his best to answer them often propounding his personal beliefs and philosophies. (Sometimes very long-winding answers, as Sankarshan honestly points out in his post – it was a one sided-affair at times) While Amish answered to A, others – B, C and D- were already ready with their questions. I kept seeing hands popping up. (Sankarshan very helpfully would keep pointing to me such people). So clearly there was HUGE demand and Amish was catering to it. Who was I to be the bad girl (not that I cared about that) and deny both the audience and the author their interaction?
2. Audience – Most of this audience that joined later was NOT part of the book club. They did not even know there was a book club. Some had come after reading the book’s fan page on FB (I thank Amish for that) and other while shopping at Landmark just strayed in when they realised that Author himself was present. Most of this latter category hadn’t read the book but yes, they did have questions and a byte/compliment for the author. It was not my place to be rude to these people who were invited by author’s fan page and were guests (buyers at) of Landmark, who kindly had provided us the venue. (In hindsight, a good decision. Most of these did come later asking how to join book club.)
3. Only 5 members of the book club had read the book, of which 3 of us were involved in forming the book club. ONLY 5! Honestly, three of us we didn’t start the book club to discuss amongst ourselves; idea is to meet and talk to like-minded folks. So, even if I stopped the question and answer session (after appearing like a bitch to everyone), without people reading books, with whom was I to discuss the book? (I debated inwardly, directing my book-related questions to Sankarshan, he had also re-read the book, but I thought without participation from others it might again become Q-A session of different kind. I didn’t take that gamble.)
There are only two reasons why this happened. There was no prior expectation-setting with either author or the members. Second being that with presence of author and choice of venue, the event wasn’t exclusive only to book club members.
What I propose we do next time –
1. First and foremost – Members MUST read the book before the meet. I can’t emphasize this enough.
2. Before meeting for the book club, one person takes responsibility to present the summary of the book and associated vignettes.
3. Identify few members – who should post their own book-specific discussion points (not generic ones) on book club’s FB page at least a week before the actual book club meet. (Which means we finish reading book a week back) So, that other members know the discussion points before hand and while reading can form their own opinion about it. During the meet, respective members should also bear responsibility that discussion points were covered.
4. If required, some of us can meet informally before the next book club meet to discuss how we can go about it. I am willing to provide my house as venue.
We owe it to us and the book club to make it happen as it should be.
P.S: 1. During the next meet, we will decide the genre/theme of the book we’d like to discuss. The list of 6 books meant for poll will be drawn only from that genre. Currently, unaware of tastes of different members, we try to draw a list of book from as many genres as possible.
2. In case you are in Pune and you still haven’t joined the book club, here’s the link. It has 75 existing members. The next book up for discussion and critical appreciation is A Confederacy of Dunces. Date: 20 Feb, 2011 and venue is Landmark, SGS Mall Pune. Yours truly will be there.