Prague Book Clubs

Meeting info, book discounts, and other info - book clubs in Prague are on the rise

Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas

Written by Elizabeth Zahradnicek-Haas Published on 24.03.2009 14:04:40 (updated on 24.03.2009) Reading time: 5 minutes

There are some who think book clubs are boorish and littered with arts and letters a-holes; others are of the mind that any institution or person (including the much-maligned Oprah) that encourages our slack-jawed, social networking culture to crack a book, can´t be all bad. I fall somewhere in between the two. As an avid reader, I´ve always been attracted to the latent promise of the book club – insightful conversations shared over steaming beverages and the pleasant shush of pages – to mixed results: the last group I joined was marked by quarreling and disastrous novel picks; we disbanded shortly after Atlas Shrugged. I haven´t joined another club since.

Still that familiar longing for the shared experience of reading, the underlying appeal of the book club, surfaces occasionally. Researching groups to join here in Prague I was surprised to discover they´re springing up faster than you can say “Haruki Murakami” (a favorite author on the local club scene). I’m not just talking about expat-centric enclaves holding court in the usual places. There are interesting things going on for readers in Prague.

“Official” Clubs
i.e. They´ve got a Web site.

For one, there´s the book club of the Municipal Library of Prague; organized by Czech library staff with a passion for the English language and attended by Czech and native-speakers alike. They´ve tackled a wide range of genres/authors since their first meeting in January, including fantasy writer Terry Pratchett in February and, this month, Ian McEwan´s popular Atonement (edging out a Haruki Murakami novel in an on-line vote). April´s meeting is slated for the 22nd at 18:30. Fairy-tales – characters, symbols, archetypes – will be up for discussion. Check the site periodically for updates.

The International Woman’s Association of Prague (IWAP) organizes the city´s largest, longest-running reading group. Beginning around 1995 with just a handful of members, it currently numbers 40 (averaging 20 per meeting) with a waiting list for membership. The club gathers the second Friday of every month at places as diverse as Café Slavia to the Rudolfinum to discuss fiction, biographies and Czech works in translation. Laurie Barnes, the group´s organizer, says that limitations do exist within such a large group but, for the most, part members, “Come away feeling intellectually energized.” Films and author visits contribute to the club´s ongoing success. IWAP membership is required to join.

The Globe Bookstore and Café´s newly launched reading group, Fortnightly, meets every two weeks at 19:30 and welcomes anyone with a desire to discuss authors as cerebral as Nabokov and Jonathan Safran Foer (recent nominees for book-of-the-month). February´s discussion of Bohumil Hrabal´s Too Loud a Solitude spanned two meetings; on March 25 the club will dissect Milan Kundera´s first novel, The Joke. The Globe is also pleased to launch a reading corner for kids during its Sunday brunch. Time is still TBD so check their site before abandoning your wee ones to mimosas and Eggs Benedict. 

“Unofficial” Book Clubs
Message board success stories.

Starting a group of your own? Barnes suggests following the blueprint laid out by The Reading Group Book by David Laskin and Holly Hughes or The Reading Group Handbook by Rachel Jacobsohn. Or do like expat Josh Siegler who took to the message boards here to round up his Vinohrady-based book club.

Siegler´s club meets the first Sunday of every month at various Prague 2 locales to discourse on Haruki Murakami and, most recently, Graham Swift. “We´ve currently got eight people and we all agree that that’s a good number, but we aren´t entirely opposed to new members,” says Siegler. Those interested in joining Siegler´s group can post a comment here.

Other Prague-based clubs were too clubby to talk for this article. (First rule of book club: Don´t talk about book club?) Local bookstores do keep tabs on reading-group activity; if you´re desperately seeking a reading group, it can´t hurt to start there.

Me, I´ve been dreaming of a book club that focuses exclusively on short fiction (any lovers of that genre can contact me here) which I firmly believe solves the problem of…

Buying Books
Prague booksellers heart clubs!

Prague´s English-language bookstores – Anagram, Big Ben, The Globe, Shakes – support reading groups by offering discounts of up to 20 percent for titles ordered in bulk. Different stores have different policies and different stores are affiliated with different clubs but all of them offer discounts to those who buy multiple titles. Amazon will ship books (new ones) to the Czech Republic, but beware added tariffs for orders over $50. See their international shipping policy here. A new feature allows customers to pre-pay duty. My recent Amazon tab looked like this:

10.17 (Book)
10.85 (Book)
  4.48 (Paperback)
15.96 (Standard int´l shipping; 18-32 days)
$41.46 ~ 820 CZK

Most of the authors mentioned in this article (Kundera, Murakami, Hrabal, etc.) are all up for grabs on the Facebook message board Prague Bookswap – although in my experience not a lot of trading goes on; I’ve posted several titles as well as queried about others and received no feedback. is also an excellent place for book shopping. I’ve lined my shelves with a number of secondhand titles courtesy of this site and made a few book buddies in the process. And don’t forget: your Open Card gives you free access to the Municipal Library.

Citywide Reading
What would you choose?

A discussion of book clubs can´t ignore the question of the ultimate club, one that encourages the entire city to stick its collective nose in a book. With the Municipal Library and the Magnesia Litera awards committee initiating citywide reading campaigns among the Czech-speaking population, I´m left to wonder if the rest of us will get in on the act. I picture identical books in a variety of translations splayed across cafe tables from Anděl to Žižkov; readers sharing nods of appreciation over matching tomes at bus stops and on trams. A city immersed in the common theme of reading – the heart and soul of any book club, big or small.

Would you like us to write about your business? Find out more