Sunday 4 February 2018

Tea and book club highlights on a snowy morning...

It’s a winter wonderland outside this morning, with plenty of the white stuff to make everything look pure and unmarred... at least for a little while.

I had a Volunteer book club meeting yesterday to discuss Reading Lolita in Tehran: a memoir in books by Azar Nafisi.  I’m sure I selected this book for this month because “Freedom to Read” week ( is always in February, and while I was reading it last week, I was using my “Banned Books” mug in honour of this.  “Freedom to Read” week is actually Feb 26-March 3 this year, so I’m a bit early, but this book confirmed my decision to reread Lolita later in the month in honour of that week.  Reading Lolita in Tehran recounts the experiences of Nafisi, an Iranian Literature professor who returned to Tehran in the late 1970s after 17 years spent in Europe and the US.  She had wonderful memories of Iran as a beautiful country with a progressive culture, but when she returned, just shortly after the Iranian Revolution, she found her country in tatters, its culture slowly disintegrating and the laws reverting back to those of nearly 70 years before.  She returned for her first post as a professor at the University of Tehran, but over the years, it became harder and harder for her to teach, first to teach the books she wanted to teach, then for her to teach at all, particularly as she refused to start wearing the veil that was becoming mandatory for women to wear when out in public.  After being dismissed from her position in the mid-1990’s, she began a secret book discussion group with some of her former students, mostly women but also one or two of their husbands, who met every Thursday at her home.  There they discussed works that were considered controversial, such as Lolita, books by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and even Jane Austen, trying to understand these novels from a modern Iranian perspective.  This was the first time I can recall reading a book about books, and it was at times a bit difficult to plow through yet another analysis of Humbert Humbert’s dysfunctional and misogynistic role in Lolita or the relationships between Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom, Tom’s mistress Myrtle Wilson and the ever-longing of Jay Gatsby.  And I’m no historian, so I found it very difficult to follow the politics surrounding the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s and later the Iran-Iraq war, but Nafisi managed to bring it all back to how this upheaval affected her role as a professor of literature and as a woman, as well as the experiences of her students during those years of uncertainty.  She was never graphic, but she made clear the situations these young women found themselves in on a regular basis.  This was all very interesting, but the thing that kept me riveted to the book was the beauty of her writing.  She captured every detail so exquisitely, both the anguish and frustration she felt towards the new political regime, and the delight she was able to take in the smallest of experiences.  I didn’t have a chance to finish it before the meeting, but I got partway into the last section, “Austen”, so I felt fairly prepared.  Only three others came out, and only one of them read the book, well, most of the book - she was just a little behind me.  As you might expect, we didn’t spend much time discussing the book, but one of my members who had only read the first few pages decided to read Lolita.  No one else had read that, so we decided that we’d put it on the list for next year in February, and someone suggested that we should make it a tradition that in February we always read a banned or challenged book.  I think everyone will make a point of reading this, as the two of us who had nearly finished it spoke so highly of it.  All in all, it was a good meeting, even if it wasn’t all about the book!

That’s all for today.  Stay warm and keep reading!

Bye for now...


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