‘I love books. I’ve loved books my whole life’
Interview with book club coordinator Glen Kendall
In continuation of its mission to support American culture in Amsterdam, the John Adams Institute is launching its very own book club. We warmly welcome all book lovers to our circle, members and non-members alike! Glen –Vietnam veteran– is an Amsterdam-based American with a life-long passion for books.
What book will you start with, for the first meeting in May?
The first book we will discuss is Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It was a National Book Award finalist in 2015 and was selected as book of the year by the New York Times, the Washington Post and many other reviewers. President Obama said it was his favorite book for 2015. [Listen to an NPR podcast with Groff]
For June – we will read a book a month – we will discuss the American classic Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Most of us read it in high school, I’ve read it three times! But rereading it many years later brings out new insights, especially in these times of racial unrest in the US.
What is the ideal group for a book club?
First of all, the members need to be serious about it. That means they read the books, come to the meetings and engage in respectful, serious discussion of the book, and they give the other members an opportunity to engage in the same thing. This is the fourth book club I’ve formed, and sometimes people show up who haven’t read the book, but then they want to talk about it!
It would be really great if we could have a spectrum of age groups, especially younger people – I’m 74. It’s also important that it be both men and women. One of the nice things about a book club is that you get different perspectives.
How many members do you hope for?
We need at least 8, and could handle up to 24. If we have more than 10 or 12, we’ll have two groups. It’s not necessary to be a member of the John Adams Institute to join, though members do get priority.
After the initial two book selections, how will the books be selected?
In principle the members should choose the books. But I think part of my job as the coordinator is to present a list of possibilities or make some suggestions. It also depends on the members’ level of past experience with American literature. We’ll learn from each other as we go.
What makes for a good book selection?
It needs to be interesting – but what does that mean? Well, it depends on your view of the world and your education and background. It needs to be rich in content, and varied, and preferably well-written. After that, it’s about whatever you get out of it, and whatever you get from the other members of the club.
Why are you taking this upon yourself?
I love books. I’ve loved books my whole life. I’d been going to the John Adams lectures and readings, and I was impressed. I’ve only lived in Amsterdam for about a year, after living in the south of France and in London. Here I wanted to get involved with the community in some way, and this struck me as a good idea.
On the first meeting, what should members expect?
We’ll have a cup of coffee and introduce ourselves, and then we’ll dig right into the book. The format will be, at least to start with, one of the members will introduce the book, with some information about the author, perhaps about the time in which the author lived and the time in which the book is set, in some cases the historical context of the story and then a quick summary of the book, the plot, the characters. Then there are questions, to generate some good discussion. The purpose of the discussion, in my mind, is to gain a perspective on the book that is different from your own. Then the next time you read a book, you’ll look at it differently.
For full details, and to join, send an email to Glen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katherine Oktober Matthews is an American artist based in Amsterdam. She is the Chief Editor of GUP Magazine. For the John Adams Institute she interviews upcoming speakers. See more of her work at oktobernight.com.