There are book clubs and then there are book clubs. The first is when you and a huge group of women, who may or may not have read the month’s assigned book, gather at someone’s house for fresh lemonade, brownie and, oh, two hours of gossiping. Maybe 20 minutes at the end, those of you who actually read the book have a quick chat, but mostly this is a “big night out” for suburban types.

Then there are the book clubs. The beloved book club is filled with smarty-pants, and passionate readers. When it’s time to pick up and choose a book, it is difficult to do so because they’ve read every book imaginable. They are ruled with an iron fist by the members who work in publishing and eat, live, and breathe books. They are extremely loyal to the book and have pure discussion on the pre-planned book. If they gossip, it’s way towards the end, long after they have had long hours of discussion and handed the opinions to each other on a platter, intellectually speaking. But you know what? They wouldn’t trade the book discussion for anything.

A few months ago, a medical student, Sameed Qureshi of Peshawar city came up with an idea of starting a book club.

He says:

“A story is always better if you have someone to share it with. What could be better than sharing it with a group of friends who have read it, too? Starting a book club in this city where readers are many but hidden, my whole idea was to gather such people and discuss the book over a cup of tea.”

He was soon joined by a brilliant writer from Peshawar, Sidra Amin, who is currently in grad school studying engineering. She won a major literary competition all over Pakistan and is a part of another literary organization, Daastan. The whole idea was to bring about the readers from the city and discuss good literature.

In today's turbulent and rapidly changing work world and considering the city’s conditions, one does not normally get time to enjoy reading leisure. In a city where terrorism is only heard of, one forgets about the writers and readers. Moreover, in Peshawar, normally writers do not have many opportunities and reading isn't very popular. To divert the mind of everyone off these hideous activities and to stir a little imagination, these young lads wanted to open a book club where they can promote literature, gather the hidden passionate people, and have a good discussion on a book.

Now, one must question whether these book clubs are up to any good, as you can always sit around a table with your friends and discuss a book anytime. The reason that laying the foundation of Peshawar Book Club was thought necessary is that there is a need to promote active, rather than passive reading. According to the founder of this book club, reading should be enhanced by other people who've experienced the same book, in a slightly more formal setting than our average coffee shop conversation. One might be saying, "But me and my friends sit around talking about books all the time. Isn't this the same thing as a book club?" Close, but not quite. Let's say a conversation strikes up in a coffee shop with a group of people, and someone brings up To Kill a Mockingbird, and let's just imagine that a lot of people the group have read the book, it might start an impromptu, lively discussion about the book, but it would never be exactly like the book club experience. It's more likely a good chunk of those people sitting at that table haven't read To Kill a Mockingbird, at which point the discussion would be squelched either because of spoiler concerns or because the conversation essentially makes no sense to them. Another reason that impromptu conversation wouldn’t be the same is that when a group discussion is impending, one is more apt to read the novel in question actively. On the other hand, the book club meetings are a bit like attending class, if the attendees of the sitting know that they might be quizzed or in some way asked questions about the text they are reading, they'll want to read critically and with a keen eye, gleaning subtext and symbols while simultaneously enjoying the narrative. The book club is not functioning properly if every member merely says, “Uh...I liked it. I thought it was cool,” and leaves it at that. If a text isn’t consumed actively, the conversation will not be active either. This isn’t to say it won’t be interesting or engaging, or that excellent points won’t be brought up, it’s just that these elements will occur passively, with less structure and more of, “And that part when such and such did such and such? Yeah, that was awesome. God, what a great book!” Again, not a bad thing, but it does not do justice to the critique of the book. Besides, this book club is intending to promote not only the mainstream literature but all kinds of good books, which also includes Urdu literature. The club has a policy of going with both English and Urdu books, simultaneously.

The book club is not only intended for readers, in fact, for writers, these are desirable discussions to have, because the books are actively being deconstructed not only for their meaning, but also for the elements that worked and those that didn't. As a writer, the desire to dissect a book for its themes, symbols, allusions, recurring imagery, and all things sub-textual should be obvious. A deep understanding of any text helps one understand how books are assembled. Writers should be reading actively anyway, and also writing about their thoughts. But if this activity is performed in a group setting, one can have his/her ideas countered or supported/expanded upon, and it also helps in enriching the understanding of the book.

The Peshawar Book Club has already arranged 4 sittings, each having a number of 15 members. The recent book club sitting that took place on 13th July, 2016, where the readers discussed The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, was one of the most interactive sessions among all the sittings. The book was discussed for three hours, where everything from the narration of the book to the symbolization in the text was talked about. Different views of the readers were debated upon and many things about the book, that are not usually realized while reading individually, were discovered by readers. The metaphor used for the book's name to the poems written by the writer were all discussed and a rating of 8.75 was given to the book on the mutual consensus of everyone.

The book club works on some rules, so no one gets off the topic. The session is divided into 4 parts. In the first part, everybody reads their favorite quote from the book. All the members have to take part in the discussion so that no one feels left out. The second part is about everybody mentioning their favorite/annoying character. In the third part discussion upon favorite/annoying/confusing scene from the book takes place. And in the last past everyone discusses the book, from the writing, the symbolic importance, the story, what the book has taught, members ask questions and answer them, everybody gives their opinion and in the end, give rating to it out of 10. After the discussion everybody gives their suggestion of what book to do next month, they have a vote and then the book is selected.