Subbing

Peony in Love Cover

While I don’t get the opportunity often, every once in a while I get to be a book group sub.  This week I got to discuss Lisa See’s Peony in Love with the Nikkei Book Group.  This group of Japanese American ladies has been meeting for years now, focusing on Asian-themed literature.

While I did write my thesis years ago on Asian American literature, I am still out at sea when it comes to Asian history and culture.  Luckily, these ladies were just as at sea with this book as I was.  Peony in Love is the story of a young girl, Peony, growing up in 17th century China and the famous play “The Peony Pavilion” which inspired her and many other young girls to starve themselves so as to die a lovesick maiden.  The play introduced a love story between a ghost girl and human man whose love makes the girl come back to life.  Peony narrates most of the novel as a ghost, detailing the intricate Chinese beliefs about ancestor worship and the afterlife.

Much of our discussion revolved around the group questioning some of these beliefs, and the women trying to recall what the Japanese believe about the afterlife.  We really would have benefited from someone with more background on Chinese history, and perhaps I should have done my homework a bit better!

 Overall it was a good discussion and while the group did not love the book, I encouraged them to try Lisa See’s other novel, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I think is an even more successful book for discussion.

What subbing reminds me of, though, is how comfortable I have become with my own group.  It has taken me some years to become confident in my skills as a facilitator, and some of this confidence has come from getting to know my group, coming to understand what they expect from me.  Meeting with a new group can challenge you a bit, make you aware of how much you coast sometimes of familiarity or habit.  I enjoy meeting with other groups because it awakes new parts of my brain and makes me work a bit harder.  But what I love most is just seeing a glimpse of another group of readers who take the time to meet and talk about books.  After all, book groups are in and of themselves inspiring.  They are people voluntarily coming together to talk about stories and ideas.   I am humbled and proud to be a part of such a fine tradition.

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About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

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