Book Club, Pata Salada Style


Worldwide, Australians purchase more books per capita than any other nationality, and Indians spend the most time reading—an average 10 hours and 42 minutes per week per person. Interestingly, it would seem that Canadians, Mexicans and US Americans don’t vary significantly in how much we read. Canada wins with 5:48 hours/week/person, next USA with 5:42, and finally Mexico with 5:30. They say 33% of US Americans never read a book after high school, 56% read at least 10 books a year, and 14% read 10-20 books/year.

The members of the book club I belong to here in Mazatlán definitely beat those averages. Some of my friends easily read four or five books every month.

Are any of you members of book clubs here in Mazatlán? If so, what would you say are the key similarities and differences between a Pata Salada/Mazatlecan book club and a club north of the border? If you are not, check out the selfie of my club, above, for some clues.

The Story
A year or so ago a friend of mine invited me to join his group. It’s a Spanish language book club. Honestly, I was flattered that he’d invited me, but I worried he’d over-estimated my Spanish language ability. I wasn’t sure I could read books in Spanish, at least not if I were going to enjoy them. I’d read Spanish language books back in college, but, hey, that was quite a few decades ago! And, it was required reading.

Of course, I didn’t let my concern stop me. I agreed to give the club a go.

Next I second-guessed my decision because I’m already so busy—full-time job, photography passion, two blogs, trying to stay physically active— and I don’t really read that many novels. I tend to read non-fiction. My new book club reads fiction. Maybe not officially, but that’s what they read. I joined anyway, figuring all I could do was my best and see how it would work out.

Then, my friend told me I’d need to attend the first meeting to have everyone meet me and “approve” my joining! Wowzer! This was like interviewing for a job. Maybe some north-of-the-border book clubs do that; it makes sense that they would want everyone to get along well with one another.

My first meeting was great, but it was also intimidating. I really liked the club members. They were funny, lively, intellectually curious, and socially engaged. I was psyched. This would be a great way to get to know some interesting new friends! One of the women, however, scared the heck out of me that first meeting. She was very tall, outspoken, dressed up and made up, and she said, in front of everyone, “Diana, if you don’t completely read one book in Spanish every month, we will not keep you in the club. You have to read minimum one book a month.” Jeepers! Looking around the room, the books were thick! Nothing like pressure! I told myself she was joking, but no one laughed.

After that, I had my third wave of doubt: would I be able to effectively summarize what I’d read to my new friends in Spanish? Could I be engaging and interesting, able to explain what I’d enjoyed or hadn’t in a book?

I promised myself early on not to use a dictionary. If I find vocabulary that I don’t understand, consulting a dictionary would make my reading feel like homework. Obviously it would help me learn. But I know myself; I knew it would slow me down and ruin the joy of a good novel.

Well, I’m happy to report that so far, one year on, I have pleasantly surprised myself. I understand the novels just fine, and I’ve really enjoyed some great Spanish-language fiction this past year. I may not summarize the books I’ve read with one-tenth of the poetic flair my fellow members do—somehow native Spanish language communication style is so much more colorful and metaphorical than my gringa Spanish language style—but my friends humor me. They listen to me with interest and ably build on my ideas.

I am very happy I joined the club. We have a delightful group of people, from different professions, experiences and walks of life. Yes, I even enjoy that tall, outspoken, well-dressed lady who intimidated me in the first meeting—she rocks.

I’ve learned that I only want to read books written in Spanish, rather than translations. Somehow to me it just feels better, and I feel like I’m learning real Spanish, and getting an insight into the mindset of a native speaker. And, I’m especially interested in books that teach me something about Mexico or Latin culture (obviously my way of getting my non-fiction fix while enjoying a good novel).

The Differences and Similarities
So, what are some of the differences that I’ve noticed between this book club and others I’ve been a member of in the USA? In the photo at the top of this post, did you notice all the books? All the different books? Most obviously and importantly to me, we do not read the same book each month and then discuss it. That is what we’ve done in every other book club that I’ve ever been a member of.

Here, we all read different books and take turns talking about them; then we trade books, depending on who wants to read what. At first I found it so very weird. I missed the in-depth conversation that, for me, a “normal” book club provides. I still do. What is cool, however, is how this process allows each of us to read exactly what we want to—complete freedom! It exposes us to loads of new authors, and keeps our costs for buying books down, as well.

How does it keep costs down? Each month we pay a nominal amount to the club kitty. Periodically we take turns going to the book store and choosing new books that club members might enjoy. We then vote on which if any of the books to purchase and add to the club library. So, each month, we’ve got a whole library of books to choose from. We can check out as many as we wish to read, and periodically that library expands, as well. That’s especially wonderful because the price of Spanish language books tends to be much higher than similar books in English.

Look at the photo again. See those glasses and bottles? A second major difference is the amount of alcohol that we consume, at least in our book club here. I have been in book clubs up north where perhaps we each had a glass of wine or two during the evening, but here, in our club at least, we all bring a bottle of wine every meeting! And it’s good wine, not the cheap stuff. Sort of makes up for any cost savings on books, lol. Most times there is leftover wine for the following meeting, but sometimes… 😉

The other truly “Mazatleco” part of book club, to me, is that communication is done via WhatsApp. I remember a couple of years ago when I discovered that WhatsApp was the secret to any event planning here. It was so liberating! Quick responses there, whereas emails, e-vites or Facebook messages rarely let me know who’s really coming to a gathering and who’s not.

So, what’s similar? Book clubs are all about books and reading, right? Both sets of clubs, here and NOB, definitely encourage reading, broadening our horizons with new topics and new authors. Every club I’ve ever been in also serves as a social outlet, allowing us to get to know people more deeply, expanding our network.

Book Fair
This year Casa del Caracol book shop is celebrating its 12th anniversary. To help celebrate, the owner, Laura Medina, organized a “book fair.” It was really cool. Book clubs in town were invited to rent a table at the event, and sell the books they no longer wanted in their libraries. All books were sold for the same price (I think it was 30 pesos; incredible deal, right?)

So, our book club got together and went through our entire library. We all voted on the books we wanted to keep, and put them back in the cupboard. Of the books that we as a club were willing to get rid of, we took turns choosing the ones we personally wanted to buy—for 50 pesos each. Those that were left over, we sold at the fair. It was amazing how many books changed hands that night! It was so incredible to know how many readers there are in this town! And I learned that there are at least two Spanish-language clubs in town that all read the same book at the same time, just like so many clubs NOB.

Those of you in a book club here, what other differences and similarities have you noticed?





About Dianne Hofner Saphiere

There are loads of talented people in this gorgeous world of ours. We all have a unique contribution to make, and if we collaborate, I am confident we have all the pieces we need to solve any problem we face. I have been an intercultural organizational effectiveness consultant since 1979, working primarily with for-profit multinational corporations. I lived and worked in Japan in the late 70s through the 80s, and currently live in and work from México, where with a wonderful partner we've raised a bicultural, global-minded son. I have worked with organizations and people from over 100 nations in my career. What's your story?

4 thoughts on “Book Club, Pata Salada Style

  1. Loved your story, and am quite jealous of your membership in what seems to be an outstanding club. (I’m out, because I can’t read Spanish that well.) Look at all the men! (Pushing 80, I’m not looking for romance, never mind that those men are all handsome!) But, I believe a male perspective is important in whatever we read, and that is missing now in my club. The darling Ray Koob was a brave and stalwart member until his death, and is sorely missed. FYI: Our club reads fiction and non-fiction, the books are chosen by a membership vote in April for the next season. We read and discuss the same book each month. We only meet 6 months, because many members are snowbirds.

  2. Pingback: The Spelling Bee Contest | ¡VidaMaz!

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