Softly, but audibly, tracks from Babyface’s Grammy Nominated Album, ‘The Day’ can be heard playing from an apartment in Caddebostan, a Muslim suburb of Istanbul. His soulful voice is occasionally punctuated by sounds of clinking glasses, crunching of potato chips and animated voices in a variety of foreign -accented English . It appears there is a form of social intercourse taking place behind these doors.
You may be tempted to think the setting described above is a party. But we’ll soon find out the real reason. After 20 minutes, the door to flat No 13 in Kismet Apartment swings opens to reveal the source of the foreign intonations ; the group seated in the living room (mostly in their 30’s) is made up of Americans, Turks, a Trinidadian, a New Zealander and a Ghanaian. The Ghanaian host gently interrupts the conversations and welcomes everyone to the real reason for the gathering : Kitap tartisma
If the above description is inconsistent with your image of a book club, well you are right, because Global Minds Book Club (GMBC) was never designed to be like “the stereotypical Book Club”
To fully understand GMBC requires re-visiting the circumstances under which the group was formed. Thrust into Istanbul , a chiefly Turkish-speaking environment in 2010 , I soon found myself, after 4 unsuccesful attempts to learn the local language, thirsting for a social platform to engage like-minded , English speaking people in a lively intellectual discourse on literary material and relevant global issues: albeit in a relaxed manner.
After a fruitless search for a Book Club which fitted this profile, the old adage, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ kicked in and decided to do something I had never done before; establish a thriving and unconventional Book Club! Armed with tips from the internet and a good measure of self-belief, I set off to ‘make it happen’. But I first had to overcome some “hurdles”. I was reminded a few times of how unattractive a proposition like this will be for Turks; and for good reason too ! Consider this; according to a survey reported in Hurriyet Daily News, 61% of Turks do not have time to read books .Of even greater concern for an English –speaking book club, is the fact that the country ranks 43rd out of 44 on the English Proficiency Index (EPI) – the first index to compare the English speaking abilities of adults in different countries across the world
I was undeterred. Spurred on by a handful of “convicted people” from the InterNations Expat community, I launched GMBC in October 2010, and at our very 1st meeting , our status as an unconventional group was established: 70% of people who came were Turks ! From an initial attendance of 9 people, the number of regular attendees would almost double before the end of my assignment in Turkey !
For most of my 2yr stint in Istanbul, leading GMBC became one of my foremost passions. In the process, I developed myself both personally & professionally: not only was I able to build a diverse social network , but I also improved my cross-cultural understanding . But perhaps more than anything else, the greatest benefit was how this group helped me further appreciate and improve my lateral thinking skills
If I had to highlight some of the underlying reason’s behind GMBC’s success, I would classify them into 3 broad groups: HOMOGENEOUS, HETEROGENEOUS and “X’ FACTORS
- Needless to say, the mutual passion for books among the highly committed members was an obvious factor. Closely linked to this, was the genuine desire on the part of each member to respectfully exchange views and perspectives with others on different subjects.
- We each shared 3 key values: Diversity, Mutual Respect and a ‘Global mindset’
- Almost paradoxically, GMBC grew in spite of its HETEROGENEITY. Far from having a uniform readership profile, it was an eclectic mix of readers; seasonal, avid and voracious readers. Compounding this was the fact that relative sizes of the 3 sub-groups was in a perpetual state of flux as new members joined /and a few also left. Sustaining group interest served as an exciting challenge for me
- Contrary to popular book club wisdom which tends to idealise single sex grouping, ours thrived as a mixed group. In addition to fostering healthy interpersonal relationships, our mixed profile was a key contributor to the breadth of diversity in our book selections(see a cc. of the Jan-Jun 2012 Reading Calendar below)
The ‘X-factor’ of success
- Beyond the above, in my opinion, the biggest driver of sustained appeal(for both new and existing members) was the relaxing /cosy atmosphere which we went to great lengths to create at each meeting. This is the primary reason behind holding meetings in either members’ homes/ comfortable outdoor locations, e.g a poolside and a park during summer. The environment within which the discussions are held makes a BIG difference. Burcin, a Turkish lawyer at White & Case law firm summed this up succinctly after participating in her first GMBC meeting ‘’..it was so refreshing to have such an intellectual conversation in a relaxed atmosphere ’’
GMBC is still going strong.It is now a 52 member group. You can check out /join our FB page (see link below)
Whoever said you can’t have a ‘serious’ literary discussion in a ‘picnic envıronment’ :)?
You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the people you meet and the books you read.” — Charlie “Tremendous” Jones