LitClub:  The Cultural Omnivore
Cascais, Portugal (near Lisbon)

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INTERNATIONAL in membership and cosmopolitan in scope, this group from Portugal has a huge appetite for good books, good conversation, and good food. Meet The Cultural Omnivore!

What nationalities do you all represent?
Our group includes a wonderful mix: Venezuelan/Scottish, South African, English, Brazilian, French, Albanian, Portuguese/Scottish, and Portuguese.

Why are you living in Portugal?
We're all here for different reasons: work, family or love. Some of us are here to stay and others are transient expatriates.

Some of our members are married to Portuguese men and have families here now. One member came to Portugal after university on an "around Europe" trip when she met her future husband at a party...and she simply stayed! So love has definitely rooted some of us to Portugal.

How did you find one another?
We got together in 2013 at the inspiration of one of our members. She started with some moms at her son's school, and word soon spread.

How many are you now?
We're a lovely group of 8 (sometimes 9)—a mix of working moms and stay-at-home moms, looking for stimulation and fun to break up the routine of work and family.

What have you been reading?
Here's our list since 2013:
Animal Farm Purple Hibiscus
Wild Swans Forever Someone Else (Francesco Pessoa) French Children Don't Throw Food Night Train to Lisbon The Descent of Woman Long Walk to Freedom Middlesex Tuesdays with Morrie The Picture of Dorian Gray Gabriela Clove and Cinnamon The Thing Around Your Neck Oscar and the Lady in Pink Siddhartha The Great Gatsby Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

Any particular favorites?
Members of the group were particularly moved by Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie as the book dealt with life and death so candidly. Some members have lost family in recent years and reading Morrie’s inspiring conversations with his former student Mitch really made us think about how to live life to the fullest and how to approach the inevitability of death in a more humane and realistic way.

Our hostess had already read the book a few times (she has lost both her parents and found the read particularly comforting) and many members mentioned that they would certainly re-read Morrie several times during their lives. It is definitely a story for anyone, young/old, healthy/ill, happy/sad and we all felt "a must read".

Similarly, members enjoyed discussing Oscar and the Lady in Pink, which touched upon these difficult issues from a child’s perspective and was a very moving read in deed.

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Other favourites have been Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus and also her short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. Although her narratives centre round an African (Nigerian) context, her work seems to strike a human chord in all of us. After reading her latest novel Americanah (which many of us adored!), The Thing Around Your Neck felt a little repetitive and seemed to be a sort of prelude for Americanah with very similar characters and stories. But we enjoyed it all the same.

Chimamanda's novels are beautifully written and words seem to flow off the page. We all thoroughly enjoy her particularly feminine yet feminist touch and we are big big, big fans of her writing. So much so that she would be an ideal guest speaker at one of our meets—if the opportunity ever came up!

Members also enjoyed reading Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, which brought up a very stimulating conversation about sex, gender, identity and family. Jam-packed with so many exciting themes, this book would strike up a vivid conversation for any group of readers. We highly recommend it to all our reading sisters across the globe!

Any disappointments?
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier was not as memorable for some, while The Descent of Woman by Elaine Morgan was a bit too densely packed for others (from a scientific perspective). Others were less than moved by Fernando Pessoa’s collection of poems, Forever Someone Else. Heralded in Portugal as the key Modernist poet (and local icon), not all of us found Pessoa's personifications and topics particularly thrilling or groundbreaking. Still, it was interesting to tap into (ever so slightly) the work of this locally adored writer and to learn a bit more about Portuguese culture.

How about good discussions?
Middlesex sparked up a great discussion given the rich themes (especially gender identity!) that are woven into this beautifully written novel.

Despite being an easy read and very light-hearted, French Children Don't Throw Food brought out the mother in all of us and we had a very interesting discussion about parenthood and different upbringings across cultures.

Having a South African national in our group meant that we were able to learn more about the background to Nelson Mandela’s story in Long Walk to Freedom. We all enjoyed hearing a lot about the realities of living in South Africa during the Apartheid and learning more about the struggles of the people of South Africa.

Also Jorge Amado's book Gabriela Clove and Cinnamon gave way to a very lively discussion. Since the novel included so many interesting and quirky characters, our hostess cleverly used a whiteboard to make notes about each one and link their stories together. We very much enjoyed this rich and exciting love story set in Brazil during the 1920s and even included one member over Skype who could not attend in person.

Tell us a little about your meetings.
We meet in each other's homes. With kids in school, meetings are in the mornings, which means we've our book club is also a breakfast club—we're omnivores, after all. We set out lavish spreads of baked goods, warm bread, savouries, sweets, tea & coffee and, most importantly, AMAZING company! Meetings last a couple of hours.

And book selection?
Whoever hosts the meeting chooses the book. At the end of each meeting, the next month's hostess tells us the book that she wants to read. Or she might bring a few options for people to choose from. We try to read something NEW for everyone to keep it interesting for all members.

What about access to books in Portugal?
Living in a non-English speaking country we have to order books from Amazon. Sometimes, if one of us is traveling to the UK, she'll bring several copies back to us. But foreign novels can be particularly hard to get—Oscar and the Lady in Pink, a French book, for instance, wasn't easy to find in Portugal. We have members who also like to read in their mother tongue, so, yes, access can be an issue.

Do you have rules?
No specific rules as such. Ideally, we ALL finish reading before the meet; however, people who haven't finished are welcomed all the same. We've also been known to extend the deadline a week or so if it turns out most of us weren't able to finish.

We try to make sure the discussion is the heart (and purpose) of the meeting, so if the conversation diverts too much into other areas, we're pretty good about bringing it back to the book.

Any special activities?
We tend to have themed meals. A few examples...
Middlesex—we had a Greek themed breakfast
Purple Hibiscus—we ate a Nigerian cake and drank mango juice through a straw as described in the book
French Kids Don’t Throw Food—the house was set up as a French Bistro for breakfast with music, fresh baguette, etc.
The Picture of Dorian Gray—the hostess printed out Oscar Wilde quotes and decorated the dining table with them.

How about any outside activities?
We sometimes go as a group to visit a museum exhibit or theatre production.

In December we had our Christmas dinner which was GREAT! With Christmas crackers, party hats, and charades, all set in a gorgeous seafood restaurant facing the Atlantic Ocean. Before dinner we had cocktails in the bar, quite a change from our morning breakfast get togethers. Only one rule: we were NOT allowed to talk about books at the dinner! It was a time to talk about other aspects of our lives, and it was loads of fun!

Overall, how would you describe your club?
These are some of the adjectives our members used to describe our Book club: passionate, dynamic, friendly, multicultural, curious and excellent listeners.

We value and accept each other’s opinions and interpretations and have created a warm and open environment to talk about literature, culture, and life in general. Conversations flow with ease and we always seem to leave hungry for more—we always look forward to the next stimulating gathering!

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