It was standing room only in the Astoria Bookshop for the first meeting of its Feminist Mosaic Reading Series.
In the minutes leading up to the meeting on a sunny Saturday in late February, book club leader Jen Adams and bookstore staff were bringing more and more chairs into the front area of the shop to accommodate attendees who were pouring in. When chairs ran out, newcomers started sitting on the floor or standing on the outskirts of the circle of chairs.
Forty-one readers — one man and 40 women — came with copies of Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in hand, ready to discuss the 1985 classic “through the lens of modern feminism,” according to the Astoria Bookshop website. Some wore shirts emblazoned with words like “Resist,” “Wild Feminist” and “Nevertheless She Persisted.”
Adams, 42, of Astoria said that the book club originated from a Twitter conversation she had with Astoria Bookshop owner Lexi Beach.
“We were wondering, why are more women not on board with intersectional feminism?” she said. She also noticed that while many women were enthusiastic about feminism in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of women became complacent about gender equality after women made gains at home and in the workplace.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done,” Adams said, “and not all women are represented by the progress that we’ve made.”
For Adams, listening to other women’s perspectives is imperative — and reading is a great way to do that.
“I want to intellectually explore intersectionality and listen to more people,” she said. “One book that was a huge influence for me was this Gloria Steinem book, ‘My Life on the Road,’ where she talks about how her career got started. And the takeaway that I got from that book was what you do is you go and you talk to other women and you listen to them tell their stories, and you shut your mouth and you listen. … And so my goal is to listen to what other people say, listen for the kind of help they’re asking for then provide it.”
The Feminist Mosaic Reading Group tackled “Second-Class Citizen” by Buchi Emecheta in March, and the next meeting, about Marjane Satrapi’s “The Complete Persepolis,” is scheduled for Saturday, April 22, at 1 p.m.
“I want to kind of work my way around the world and read more diversely than I have done in the past,” she added.
During the discussion about “The Handmaid’s Tale,” participants kept circling back to the ways in which civil liberties were taken away in the dystopian novel, and many remarked upon how they had recently become more politically active. One woman told the group how she had never been very involved politically, but now she knew the names of her senators.
For Adams, the current political climate made “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which has long been one of her favorite books, a great choice to start off the book club. She also thinks that the recent election is what made this a “good moment” for a feminist book club — and why there was such an amazing turnout.
“I think a lot of people, myself included, are now understanding what democracy really means and that it’s a responsibility as much as a privilege,” said Adams, a writer, editor and mother of two teenage boys. “The fact is that voter turnout was very low, that over half of people didn’t bother to vote in this presidential election, and we can’t let that happen again.”
One book club attendee, Astoria resident Diane Speicher, 70, was no stranger to feminist activities at the Astoria Bookshop: she went to a discussion group called a “huddle” held there after the Women’s March.
She said she’d been looking for a book club and that after the Women’s March, she wanted to surround herself with “feminine energy.”
Jennifer Andrus Doyle, 39, of Astoria said, “I also felt that with the current administration it was time to equip [myself] so to speak, to get in touch with what it means to be a feminist — it’s not a bad word — and to make sure my rights as a human being, as a woman over my body and the things that happen to me are still my choice. I need to make [the administration] very aware that we’re here and we’re paying attention, so I thought that this was a good way to get that going, that thought process going.”
As they left Astoria Bookshop, book club attendees were complimenting Adams on posing thoughtful, open-ended questions and creating an interesting discussion, and Andrus Doyle echoed that sentiment.
“I really enjoyed this meeting of like-minded people and was very happy to see that there was also a man here,” Andrus Doyle said. “It was a very engaging conversation. It was nice to discuss these things through the [lens] of this book and looking at it as a cautionary tale of what could happen if we’re not diligent.”
If Andrus Doyle is any indication, the original book club members were ready to keep coming back for more discussions:
“I already bought the second book,” she said.