English Readers Club of Uitikon Community Library
Uitikon, Switzerland (near Zurich)

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THEY ONCE CALLED themselves The Harry Potter Book Club, after the series that inspired these Swiss English-speaking readers to get together. They've long since graduated from Hogwarts and moved on to the larger world of English literature.

What prompted a group of Swiss adults to turn to Harry Potter?
Caroline Hurlimann's 10-year-old son was devoted to the series when they first came out and, as a result, became an excellent reader in English. Caroline wanted to share her own affection for Rowling's gripping tales—as well as her passion for English literature—with others.

So what happened?
She contacted the head of our local library who offered her use of the facilities—and supported her effort by advertising in the local paper. We got a group of 12 to come every Thursday evening.

How did it go with Harry Potter?
We started with the fifth volume, The Order of the Phoenix, which had just been published. Beginning in September, 2003, we met weekly, discussing three chapters at a time. Over the next three months we finished the book—38 chapters in all (776 pages).

Quite a feat—given that English isn't your first language.
It was a rich experience, prompting discussions on all sorts of themes: English boarding schools, childhood, parenthood, sports like cricket, mythical creatures, etc.

And you even traveled to England!
Yes, we decided to read JK Rowling's biography—and followed it up with a trip to the UK. We visited the main locations where the film was shot (outside of Bath and in Oxford).

That sound you hear? Sobs of envious readers from across the ocean.
Well, hold on...we even went to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see Romeo and Juliet as a bonus.

Enough, please...! So what happened next?
When we returned to Switzerland after our Harry Potter trip, we realized it would be a shame to stop getting together, so we decided to continue meeting once a month. Our official name become the English Readers Club (ERC) of Uitikon Community Library. We now meet 11 months out of the year.

What have you been reading post-Harry Potter?
Here's our 2013 reading list:
Buddha in the Attic
Man Who Died Laughing
Girl with the Glass Feet
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Great Gatsby
Shoemaker's Wife
Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold fry
The Submission
A Cat Named Bob

Any favorites?
Our favorite books tend to be ones that have led to the most interesting discussions or inspired us to do some traveling:
Da Vinci Code—we followed up with a trip to Paris
Secret River
Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain—we followed by with a trip to Andalusia.
Water for Elephants
Salmon Fishing in Yemen
Cellist of Sarajevo
Three Cups of Tea
God of Small Things—we invited an Indian specialist to lead our discussion.
Language of Flowers
The Peculiar—the book's author Stefan Bachmann visited with us in person (see photo).

The group does a lot outside of its regular meetings.
Yes, we do. Aside from our themed trips abroad (the UK, France, and Spain)...

  • We go to the cinema if the film of the book has been launched (e.g., The Great Gatsby).
  • We've been on a geological trip with our in-house geologist and ex-Shell employee, Walter Jung (see photo).
  • We've been to the Christmas markets in Basel, Switzerland, and Strasbourg, France (see photo).
  • We hold special teas to raise money (each of us making cakes and biscuits).
  • We support the English Comedy Club of Zurich by attending performances.
  • Sometimes, we meet up for a themed dinner (e.g., a Lebanese mezzeh (see photo).

And you also support a charity.
We collect monthly dues, which last year we contributed towards Ayuda Mexico—helping two girls towards their future. This year we will probably raise enough money to support a pre-school teacher's further education in Namibia.

Generally, how would you describe your group?
We are the most wonderful group of women, graced by the regular presence of two or three gentlemen. We are all of different ages, backgrounds, nationalities, and cultures, coming together on a monthly basis to share ideas, chat, and have a good time. We care about the world we live in. We are not intellectuals or academics; we just love a good discussion and of course appreciate a good read.

And do visit the Uitikon Library's home page.

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