Island Voices: How one book changed the lives of many

Many years ago I was invited to join a local book club. At the time, I was a busy young mother with very little time to read and part of me was not excited about spending the little time I had reading a book I would not normally choose.

I joined the book club with the idea of giving it a try, and discovered genres (and worlds) I may have never encountered if not for the book club.

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These books, these visits to other worlds, have opened my own world in ways I did not anticipate. They have stretched my mind, touched my heart and helped me to grow as a reader and as a person.

Several years ago, we chose a book called Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. This unforgettable collection of stories illustrates the horrors of human trafficking and the oppression of women and girls in the developing world and shows how a little help can make a world of difference.

Heartbreaking and inspiring, the book jolts its readers awake with shocking realities and offers endless ways we — all of us — can help.

Half the Sky inspired a small change in our book club, and over the years, this “small change” continues to have a rich and far-reaching impact.

Each meeting, members are invited to add a monthly fee to the jar. If ever anyone is feeling guilty about not finishing the chosen book (because let’s be honest, life is busy), they can choose to pay an additional (optional) fine and leave with the happy knowledge that they have helped someone.

There is never an obligation, but everyone is quick to add money to the jar because we have seen how this simple little practice touches lives.

When we have a substantial amount, there is a short discussion and then the money is donated. Half our donations go to people in need in our own backyard and the other half reaches across the world.

Over the years, we have donated locally to individuals and organizations such as the food bank, and to further-afield organizations such as the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Kids International.

One of the many suggestions offered by Half the Sky is Kiva’s micro-financing. It’s user-friendly, effective and brilliant. The women in our book club help to finance small loans, so women in less-privileged situations can start up small businesses and other entrepreneurial endeavours. Amazingly, the money is paid back quickly and lent out again, and again and again.

Women reading books.

Women helping women.

And all of this inspired by one book called Half the Sky.

(Chinese Proverb: Women hold up half the sky.)

Book clubs come in all shapes and sizes. Some have a more formal structure, while others (like ours) are extremely casual. We mostly meet on the third Thursday of every month. People can bring snacks or wine, but there are no obligations.

We decide on the next date and book (or two) before departing each month.

For 20 years, we’ve been meeting monthly, with a pause through the summer.

Our membership has shifted and changed over the years. People move away and new people join. Older members have died, but their wisdom somehow remains with us as their spirits seem to move through our conversations. We have no agenda beyond discussing the book. Conversations wander off in different directions, then circle back. I have personally become as fascinated by the many perspectives presented as I am by the books themselves.

How lucky am I that all those years ago, I decided to give a book club a try. And I’m forever grateful that along with all the amazing titles we have read over the years, we discovered Half the Sky.

I am sharing our story with the hope that it will inspire other book clubs. If one tiny book club can make a difference, think of what many book clubs could do.

I believe it’s true what they say … a little help can make a world of difference.

Happy reading!

Kathy Beliveau is a children’s author and yoga instructor from Lantzville.

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