Your New Online Book Club: Words Between Worlds / by Madeleine Riley


Do you belong to a book club? One of the best things I’ve done for my reading life in the past couple years was to join several book clubs — I dabble in each of them when it works for my reading life, but even when I don’t get to read the monthly selection, I still love getting to hear the conversation. The great thing about online book clubs is that you can be part of the conversation on your own schedule, and still feel connected to readers all over the world. Today I want to introduce you to an Instagram-based book club that I love to follow — Words Between Worlds. The team of ladies behind this club care deeply about raising up new voices in literature, and I encourage you to check it out and join in. I asked one of the moderators — Diana, of @owls_library — to join me for a quick interview. Onto all the details!

Tell us a little about yourself!

Hello! My name is Diana from @owls_library. I'm originally from Logan, UT but also spent my teenage years in Gwangju, S. Korea. I currently (reluctantly) live in Dallas, TX.  My BS is in Early Childhood Education from BYU but I currently am not using my teaching degree and instead work at a skincare company. Like many of you, I am an avid reader and especially love reading books written by authors of color. Other than reading, I enjoy writing, eating, traveling, and am in love with chocolate!

Tell us about your reading life! What's important to you when selecting a book to read?

I tend to lean towards books written by multicultural authors. I've always been passionate reading about immigrants in America. Just the thought of so many different ethnicities, cultures living in one country fascinates me.  The first 20-ish years of my life, I was not exposed to diversity — I spent my early years in Utah, a very white state. And then my teenage years in South Korea and though I love many things about my motherland, it is a homogeneous country that is still pretty closed-minded of accepting anything or anyone that is different. So when I moved to Dallas five years ago, a very diverse city, I was fascinated by the different types of people I met and wanted to hear their stories. 

When and how did you come up with the idea for forming Words Between Worlds?

WBW happened all because of Lee Min Jin's Pachinko. I read it summer of 2017 and was madly in love with the book. When an Asian author, especially a fellow Korean author comes out with a book, I'm naturally already intrigued. But, Min Jin Lee covered three generations of Koreans (in Japan) starting from the dark days of colonialism, the Korean War, and the aftermath of the two wars. Pachinko was such a powerful book because it was so personal to me. Though it was a work of fiction, it almost seemed like I was reading my grandparents' and my parents' past.

I then started talking to Haley from @mylittlebooktique and Simone from @simoneandherbooks a lot! Because all three of us are Korean, Pachinko meant a lot to us. We then discussed how it'd be nice of authors of color/ minorities' stories to be more well-known to the public. Though we've seen some improvement, the publishing industry still is very white and has made little progress to diversify, especially racially. We then decided to start an online bookclub that would focus on recognizing and promoting marginalized voices, especially minorities in America. When America is a country made up of people from all different parts of the world, it saddens me knowing that so many voices are still unheard and we wanted to change that with a bigger goal to change the publishing industry! 

Tell us about your WBW team! Do you each have a specific role?

The three moderators are Haley, Simone, and myself! We're still trying to figure out our roles. WBW was an idea that suddenly "happened" without much thinking. We do not have defined roles but naturally Haley (from @mylittlebooktique) takes a lot of our photos, Simone (from @simoneandherbooks) played a huge role making our Goodreads page happen (but sadly, we're going away from Goodreads). She also comes up with captions for our posts and discussion questions. I communicate with authors and publishers for future books. We all help out to manage our account here and there as well. 

We also have Miriam (@guatemamma_reads), Stacey (from @prose_and_palate), Jamise (from @spinesvines), Lois (@all26letters) and Katie (@katie_in_sandiego) that help us too! When we first came out with the idea, I asked them if they wanted to join (I honestly didn't think WBW would get this big and imaged it'd be a smaller, more intimate group) and they said yes! They provide ideas and help with the selections as well. And they are awesome promoting WBW on social media!

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How do you go about deciding the monthly selections for WBW?

Since Min Jin Lee inspired us to start WBW, we started with her book Free Food for Millionaires. From then on, we decide to rotate continents/ ethnicities while focusing on our main purpose of WBW, "whose voice needs to be heard?" We then all met online and had a great "meeting" and planned out the rest of the year. We're also looking into 2019 and what we'll be reading them. Our focus is to also play along with the different holidays that come up throughout the year making sure to celebrate authors and writing in those months.

We've also been extremely lucky enough to work with authors and publishers as well. So, if we are contacted with a book that would be a good fit for WBW, we will add it to our list but make sure not to read a book by similar ethnic groups twice in a row.

Can you tell us your favorite WBW book so far?

All WBW books have been so good and unique, but if I had to pick one, it'd be Speak No Evil. It was a book that evoked so many emotion. Though a YA book, it covered so many important themes - immigration, traditional and cultural clashes of immigrants of 1st generations, and it also sadly, yet accurately, portrayed  events that happen in this very country we live in because of prejudice and racial discrimination. I HIGHLY recommend this book to all! And the teacher in me also thinks Speak No Evil should be a mandatory read for high schoolers! 

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What have you learned so far in running Words Between Worlds? Have there been any particularly powerful moments relating to your WBW experience?

We've definitely learned a lot in the past seven months. One is wrangling friends online to discuss the books at the end of the month! Another one is picking books that are coming out but also looking back and seeing books published years before. We want the books we choose to be accessible and sometimes library holds can be too long for our participants. We hope to pick some older books in the future and announcing books in the middle of the month to give our readers a chance to get the book.

We've also taken some cues from other online book clubs like Diverse Books Club and Salt Water Reads to see how we want to organize our discussions and important announcements.

I think the most surprising moment for us is how people react to the books we choose. We use #wordsbetweenworlds as a hashtag and seeing month over month who reads our books. Sometimes the reaction is a little low, but when we announce a book or start a new month and we see all the great participants, we knew we were onto something. We were empowering people to read diversely and sharing the marginalized voices like we wanted to. It's incredible to watch people pick up these reads and share their feelings and relate to the stories. I think that's what we love the most.

Last question — we love to recommend books here on Top Shelf Text. Can you tell us some of your overall favorites?

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

Thank you to Diana and the WBW team for sharing! If you’ve participated in the Words Between Worlds book club before, I’d love to hear which books were your favorite!