When a Book Is So Much More

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I have always been an avid reader.  Growing up our school I rocked the Reading Olympics that helped raise money for the March of Dimes.  I would like to say that I crushed that fundraiser every year because I was very philanthropic at a young age, but truth be told, I just wanted a gold metal in a “sport” that didn’t require sweating (or athleticism) and loved to read.  So my best friend Molly and I would head to the library and literally get more books than we could carry and tuck ourselves in for a weekend of binge reading–who needed Netflix in the 70s!?

I have always loved how books transport me to another time, give me a glimpse as to how others live, and amaze me with the author’s creativity.  And there is nothing better than a book you can’t put down.

But it wasn’t until I joined a Daughters of Abraham book club, that I truly realized that a book could be so much more.

An instrument of change.  Of understanding.  A vehicle for discussion.

The Daughters of Abraham, which has book clubs across the country (anyone practicing one of the three Abrahamic faiths–Islam, Christianity, and Judaism–can found a group and fill it with proportionate numbers of women from each faith) was founded in Boston after 9/11 in an effort for a group of women to come together and better understand each other’s faith by using books as the tool.  The goal of the discussions is the slow, thoughtful work of getting to know one another over good books. And by engaging with the books we explore the meanings, shape and practices of our own and one another’s religious experiences.

As a convert to Islam, I have found the book club instrumental in my own faith building.  My entire Muslim community of friends has grown out of my book club.  I’ve had the opportunity to work through some very difficult conversations on topics that divide many.  But for us we find, through these books, that we have much more in common than we have differences.  We’ve explored marriage, death, near death, modesty, holidays, rituals, ministry, prayer practices, etc.  We’ve read memoirs, novels, poetry, children’s books and academic texts and each one has provided a plethora of fodder for discussion.  I leave each month with a wider view of the world and a better understanding of each faith tradition.

Reading books has always been a passion for me, but what is a great book if you can’t share it.

My oldest has caught my reading bug as well.  He would read all day every day if left to his own devices.  So when we discovered the Night Readers book club for kids at our local library it seemed like a no brainer.  For him, he gets to read great books that he would likely have never chosen on his own and then gets to go out “late” each other month with me to discuss it with a group of friends.  How much fun is that?

For me, it’s so much more.

Through this group, which is facilitated by a wonderful librarian that is a fellow “boy mom” with a fierce appreciation for children’s literature, we have had amazing conversations and glimpses in to our children’s worlds, even without them realizing it.

As an example, over the summer, we read the graphic novel El Deafo by Cece Bell, which is a loose biography of the author’s experience growing up deaf in the 70s and having to wear a phonic ear.  For the majority of the kids, they loved it since it’s a graphic novel (think comic book meets book) about a funny time way back when where all of the characters are rabbits.  For the parents, it was such an eye opener to see how our children viewed friendship, heartache, embarrassment, and overcoming obstacles.  Through the discussion they answered each question that was posed candidly and completely authentically.

Now if I were to sit Zain down and probe him about his friendships–if he felt accepted, how he reaches out to others, or needs others to reach out to him–he’d get very wary, likely embarrassed and shut down.  But when asked to talk about a book and put themselves in the main character’s shoes, the kids went on and on and on unfettered.  And not all of it was rosy–kids were very honest about their friendships, or lack of, or how they feel about how others view them, etc.  For a parent, it’s not easy to hear, but what a gift to be able to understand what they are going through without the awkward conversations.  I left that night with my heart full.

So for me these groups are an absolute win win.  They keep me reading, stretch my knowledge and imagination, and they give me the opportunity to widen my understanding of those around me.

An absolute gift.

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