Book clubs start a new chapter

Updated: 2011-12-19 07:56

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)

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Book clubs start a new chapter

Book Smugglers is one of the popular book clubs among the capital's expats. Tiffany Tan / China Daily

Every last Tuesday of the month, a group of women lay claim to the long wooden table at 12sqm bar on Beijing's Nanluoguxiang.

For about three hours starting at 8 pm, the conversation flows around the table, punctuated only by laughter and calls to the bartender for "one more" glass of red wine, French martini or Coke.

The women, mainly expats in their 20s and 30s, are occasionally joined by one or more men. It could be a friend, but more often than not someone who was originally a stranger. Everyone is welcome, as long as they like both fiction and nonfiction.

This is Book Smugglers, a gathering of people who love to read and talk about books. The group, which advertises its monthly meetings in expat listing magazines and websites, is among the few public book clubs in town. It has been around for about a year. It's organized by an American freelance writer, who wanted to meet people with the same interests.

"I just wanted it to be a really low-key kind of thing and maybe get people my age," 28-year-old Lauren Johnson, who also works as a bartender at 12sqm, says.

Book Smuggler members make it a point to explore different genres.

Their past selections include young adult literature (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins), short stories (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury) and Chinese fiction translated into English (Brothers by Yu Hua).

Johnson says there was a mix of ages and sexes at the start.

"The older men left once they realized the girls were interested in talking and reading and not other things," she says.

In a two-story apartment, 10 kilometers away, another book club with the opposite situation meets.

The Business Brainstorming and Business Book Review Session (4BRS) plans to actively recruit women members after Spring Festival. It's currently made up of seven American men in their mid-20s to late-30s.

"It wasn't intended to exclude women," the group's founder, 30-year-old Bryan Withall, says.

"But no women happened to be part of the core group (in) any sustained way."

But, while not gender-specific, there are membership criteria.

Participants should have established, or plan to start within the next six months, a startup or small business.

And they should be "of an equal caliber and so trustworthy, a person that you would be willing to do business with".

Members also call 4BRS "4 Bros".

One person talks about a business-related book he has read. Most speakers prepare a PowerPoint presentation. Afterwards, there's a group discussion.

"I think the coolest thing about this club is the fact that not everyone had to read the books," says Withall, who is also manager of business advisory services at the US-China Business Council.

Graham Majorhart, 25, says, "We had someone who is an expert on that book they've read, taking the time to put together a presentation so that our friends and colleagues can understand the value of that one book We're all students. We all have notepads and take notes."

Among the titles they've discussed are The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie and The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It by Michael E. Gerber.

The gatherings have already produced two entrepreneurial fruits, the men say. One is a private equity fund targeting Mongolian investment. Another is a nonprofit trying to create a support system for entry-level Americans in multinationals in second- and third-tier Chinese cities.

"We've actually, in the first session, laid out some rules," Withall says.

"Don't drink while you're here. Don't drink too much before so that you're drunk when you get here or are buzzed. Because we really want to have a serious conversation where people remember what they've talked about."

The drinking begins shortly after, when they head to their favorite neighborhood Korean restaurant and pub.