LitClub:  Friends of the English Bookshop, Lucca
Lucca (Tuscany), Italy

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THE WALLED CITY of LUCCA in the northern part of Italy's Tuscany is home base for this group of English-speaking readers—though a number of its members are scattered across the globe.

How did you get your name?
From the English Bookshop in Lucca, Italy. Eight years ago, the owner, along with another bilingual friend, began holding occasional evening meetings in the bookshop to discuss books.

We sat tightly packed in the tiny bookshop on chairs borrowed from the restaurant across the street. Everyone brought something to eat...and wine, of course. Sooner or later, most native English speakers (Americans, Australians, Brits, Irish, etc.) relocating to Lucca found the Bookshop and, through these meetings, found each other.

The meetings also attracted Italians keen to practice their English and expand their knowledge of English literature. Many lasting friendships stemmed from those meetings. Sadly, the Bookshop is no more.

With the bookshop gone, how do people find you?
Through our Facebook page (Friends of the English Bookshop) and by word of mouth. One of our members publishes an account of our discussions in a local online English newspaper. And we have our own rudimentary website—Lucca Lit.

How many members at this point?
We have a solid core of 30+ members and usually 10 to 20 at meetings.

There are some 90 members on our mailing list. Some no longer live in Lucca; others have never lived here but visit from time to time. Our latest "member," thanks to Facebook, is a bookshop in France specializing in English books (photo, directly right).

How do you select—and find—English books?
Our current titles come from “Books of the Year” lists in quality US and UK newspapers. The emphasis is on recent novels, but we make space for the occasional classic and non-fiction work.

We work two months in advance so everyone has time to order the book or find it in a specialized English bookshop (e.g.,  in Florence). And now we have Amazon Italia, which has an amazing stock of books in English.

Tell us what you've read this year.
Here's our list for 2012...
A Visit from the Goon Squad
The Elementary Particles
The Hare with Amber Eyes
When I Lived in Modern Times
The Sense of an Ending
Cutting for Stone
Ella Minnow Pea
The Tiger's Wife
Vanity Fair
The Handmaid's Tale
The Dinner

What about favorites?
Definitely The Hare with Amber Eyes for its wonderful historical sweep, as well as being a intimate family portrait.

Other hits have been The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai, Reunion by Fred Uhlmann, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Scoop by Evelyn Waugh, and an Italian classic in translation, The Leopard by Giuseppe Tommasi di Lampedusa

Any particularly good discussions?
Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach: the under-40s could not believe the central premise of the book (that it was once normal for married couples to experience sex for the first time on their wedding night) and the “oldies” had to explain the 1960s sexual revolution to them. We managed an intelligent adult discussion, with only occasional lapses into hilarious bad taste.

Last year, we had probably too long a discussion of Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, trying indeed to make sense of its ending. We always try to find books with enough subtlety and complexity in characters and situations to give us something to get our teeth into.

Do books ever disappoint the group?
Every book disappoints some of us, while delighting others. Because we are such a heterogeneous group—a wide age range, men and women, from different countries and cultures—we rarely agree entirely on any book. But the upside is that our discussions are always enlightening, sometimes heated, and never dull.

Our aim is always the same—to read and talk about books, and form friendships with people who share that passion.

What about club rules?
While we try not to take ourselves too seriously, we decided to avoid “airport” or “beach” books. And we avoid at all costs breathless accounts of “how-we-renovated-our-ruined-Tuscan-farmhouse-and-aren’t-the-natives-quaint” variety. Finally, if we have a large attendance (our record is 24), we have to be pretty disciplined about ... 1) letting everyone speak and 2) listening, really listening.

Finally, how would you describe your club?

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