Difficult Women Book Club: A safe space to discuss and explore the works of women writers


After falling in love with the concept of the book club, Yasmin went through the process to open a KL chapter.

It was the name – The Difficult Women Book Club – that first captivated her. And after finding out what the book club was about, Yasmin Zulhaime was sold on the idea. Not only did she become a member of the original book club based in Barcelona, Spain; she also started its Malaysian chapter last month.

"The Difficult Women Book Club was started by Linda Massi in Barcelona early this year. The idea was to gather book lovers together to discuss the work of women authors. A lot of women liked the idea and it started gaining a following on TikTok and soon, chapters mushroomed all over the world," explains Yasmin, 28.

Currently, there are some 30 Difficult Women Book Club chapters across the globe including one in Kuala Lumpur, which Yasmin founded. The KL club will hold its first meet on Aug 31 and Yasmin is all geared up for it.

"Apart from the name itself – which I think is so cool – one of the things I like about the book club is that we get to discuss the similar, universal struggles, as well as the joys of being a woman. The focus of the club is really what drew me to it," she says.

"I joined a London meet in June and it was just so interesting to hear many perspectives to that one book that everyone had read. To hear female experiences that were similar and yet different was just so enriching.

"Imagine readers all around the world reading the same book but having different interpretations or perspectives based on their backgrounds. This will surely lead to meaningful discussions and that is what I am hoping to bring to KL," says Yasmin.

The book club meets once a month to discuss a pre-selected book. The very process of selecting the books to be read is very democratic: members are invited to suggest books they think will be good; Massi shortlists the options down to four and the members vote on the one they like best. Members have a month or so to read the book before the meet. The read for August is Yellowface by R.F. Kuang.

Yasmin is looking forward to the inaugural Difficult Women Book Club _ Kuala Lumpur meet on Merdeka day. - Photos: YASMIN ZULHAIMEYasmin is looking forward to the inaugural Difficult Women Book Club _ Kuala Lumpur meet on Merdeka day. - Photos: YASMIN ZULHAIME

Feminist club

"Is this a feminist book club? Well, I would say so. We talk about all these (feminist) issues. Intersectionality is a big topic nowadays because within the female experience there are multiple other issues that are also very important to discuss," she says.

One important criteria of the club – aside from the fact that it discusses the work of women authors – is that is a safe space that welcomes people from all genders and identities, and respects everyone's thoughts.

"Nowadays on social media, people say a lot of things online but often, we remain in a bubble – we say a lot but we don't necessarily learn much. With a club like this, although we get to express out views, it is contained as it has to come back to the source material: the book in discussion. So everyone's focus is the same. It's a more controlled environment and discussion that centre round the themes of the book.

"Keeping this space safe is therefore, very important and one of my main concerns in starting this. Everyone should be able to be themselves and speaks their minds," she says.

Yasmin also hopes to foster a community of book lovers which she says is still "quite lacking" in Malaysia.

"We see book fairs, book sales and book events but at the core of these are people and their stories. I want to ensure that we can have a community where people can come as they are and connect with one another. It makes the reading experience richer as well. Personal goals (like how many books to read, what kind of books to read and learning to read critically) are more easily achieved in a community," she says.

"So far, the KL Chapter has about 300 followers (on Instagram), with about 35 people in the group chat who have actively expressed their interest in joining the club. This is a larger number than I expected, but well, the more the merrier."

"What's important is that the readers who come to discuss the book are diverse, of all identities and backgrounds. This will increase the richness of our conversation around the book with diverse perspectives. And that is why I hope to spread the word (about the club) as far and as wide as possible," she says.

R.F. Kuang's novel is the book club's pick for August. — HandoutR.F. Kuang's novel is the book club's pick for August. — HandoutStart from scratch

Yasmin is currently living in Coimbra, Portugal where she works as a website developer and digital marketer. She will be back in Malaysia this month until the end of the year by which time she hopes to get the Malaysian iteration of the club up and running.

"I have been looking for a reason to start a community because community building is something that I am passionate about. But starting something from scratch is quite difficult so when I came across this, I thought this was a great idea," she says.

"And since I have many friends in KL, I thought it would be a good idea to get it started. Although I will be going back to Portugal in November, I have like-minded friends who can sustain the club here.

"I am also working on tying up with an independent bookstore so that we can have a permanent space for the meets," she says.

Yasmin says that she's been a keen reader since she was about 10 but, in-between her high school exams and the hustle of university life, reading was pushed aside for a short while.

"I kind of fell out of it when I was studying for my SPM and in university but when I started working, I fell back into it, maybe because I had a bit more time for reading. I started an Instagram account dedicated to books as well as my writing but through it, I started following a lot of people who shared about books and that increased my knowledge about authors and their works. And that led me to the Difficult Women Book Club," she shares.

Although it may seem that the club is catered to women, Yasmin says that it definitely isn't a women's club.

"It is open to all. There has been some confusion as some people may think it is just for women, and particularly young adult women but it's for everyone who is interested to read and discuss these work by women authors," she says.

To join the club or find out more, go to @difficultwomenbookclub_kul on Instagram.

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