Author On the Bookcase: Emily Arsenault
Emily Arsenault is the author of In Search of the Rose Notes, a suspenseful tale that weaves back and forth in time as the narrator tries to find the truth about her childhood babysitter’s disappearance. Publishers Weekly calls it an “emotionally complex and deeply satisfying read.” Please welcome Emily as she talks about her first book club:
My first book club was in the Peace Corps.
As a volunteer in rural South Africa (2004-2006), I had lot of time for reading. The village where I lived was quiet in the evenings, and I had no television or internet. Fortunately, I had a steady stream of hand-me-down books from other volunteers. Every other weekend a few of us would make the long, dusty trek from our villages into town to shop, have breakfast, and swap books.
Favorite books would travel from one volunteer to another, discussed widely and often “reserved” several volunteers in advance. My copy of Margaret Atwood’s Blind Assassin had that status, mostly because I wouldn’t stop talking about it. Books were hard to come by, so we relied on each other (and our respective book stashes).
We didn’t call ourselves a book club, but books were always an important part of our relationship. By sharing our books, we were giving each other a little bit of company for later—for when we were back in our remote villages, looking for a way to pass a lonely evening.
What I loved about this “book club” was that we usually had to trust the tastes of others. We took chances on books we normally wouldn’t choose for ourselves. Literary types read pulp thrillers or a well-traveled copy of Tarzan of the Apes. A devourer of chick lit might take a nineteenth century Russian novel back to the village and give it a whirl. Guys would take home books with vaguely feminine covers. I discovered one of my now-favorite authors (Haruki Murakami) through a recommendation I took reluctantly from another volunteer.
Now, back home in the U.S., I miss a lot of things about my experience in South Africa, but among them is the constant book swapping. A few of us tried to maintain the “club” when we were back home—e-mailing each other our favorite titles, occasionally mailing each other books, even trying to coordinate reading a book together and discussing it online. But it just wasn’t quite the same, with all of us strewn around the country, now with TV and the internet again, and generally with less free time for reading. Still, when I read a good book and want to share it with someone, I usually think of these old friends first.
Recently, I got an e-mail from a particularly adventurous volunteer from our group whom we hadn’t heard from in a couple of years. He was just finishing a teaching job in Shanghai, and was headed to Islamabad for a new job. He was in the U.S. briefly in between, and was planning to stock up on books while he was home. Did I have any good recommendations?
It might not be quite the same anymore. But I love that books continue to connect us.
Emily Arsenault is the critically acclaimed author of The Broken Teaglass, a New York Times Notable Mystery of the Year and the newly released In Search of the Rose Notes. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. Browse inside In Search of the Rose Notes, and learn more about her novels by visiting her website, and liking her on Facebook.