By Astrid Zulhaime

First Chapter: The Difficult Women Book Club Kuala Lumpur

Calling all bookworms—here’s a book club close to home.

Book clubs have been around for centuries, and for good reason. These monthly gatherings held to discuss literature—famously over drinks and snacks—provide people with a community and a safe space to just be. After all, being surrounded by like-minded people to support and listen is important, especially in adulthood.

For 28-year-old Yasmin Zulhaime, the woman who brought the international Difficult Women Book Club to Kuala Lumpur, there’s nothing more important than creating communities. “Trying to achieve individual goals as a community is such an empowering concept,” Yasmin said. “I want to be able to foster that in Malaysia.”

After attending a London chapter of the Difficult Women Book Club earlier this year, Yasmin was inspired to build a similar community in her hometown. “The idea of having a book club is to bring people together, people who want to talk about the books they have read, to read at least one book a month [or] find other people who they can relate to.” Thanks to her, these individuals now have a place to meet each other: the Difficult Women Book Club KL.

Diverse and Proud

Originally created in Barcelona by Linda Massi, the Difficult Women Book Club owes its name to an essay called The Cult of the Difficult Woman by Gia Tolentino. Its subject matter involves “not giving women a pass just because they are women or in the name of feminism” which speaks volumes on what the book club stands for: intersectionality.

It’s no surprise when Yasmin stressed that the Difficult Women Book Club is, “…for everybody. In Kuala Lumpur, we actively make sure that people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, and identities join.” So yes, men are welcomed and even encouraged to join the club. After all, how will authentically intersectional conversations be had if all of the members are just women; difficult or otherwise?

This concept clearly resonates as the Difficult Women Book Club now has over 50 different chapters all over the world with their correspondingly diverse members. The chapter heads like Yasmin—people who founded a chapter in their city—are all in an Instagram group chat where they vote to decide the club’s female-written novel of the month. This November, Sarah Mesa’s Four by Four is the pick; a gothic thriller set in a college full of dark secrets.

Our Local Bookworms

Starting the Malaysian chapter was simple; all Yasmin had to do was express her interest to Linda. After creating an Instagram account for the Difficult Women Book Club KL back in July 2023, she followed all the Malaysian Bookstagrammers she knew and hoped that the news would spread through word of mouth—which was exactly what happened. 

Fun fact: there is a large community of Instagram accounts focusing on literature, managed by our very own local bookworms. Yasmin’s familiarity with this group is what led her to believe that there’s a definite need for more book-related activities in Malaysia. “Reading itself is a solitary hobby but Bookstagram is so popular because people want to talk about the books that they have read,” the web developer mused.

Even knowing this, the success of the Kuala Lumpur branch of the book club still startled her, especially after only two monthly gatherings. “I have to admit I did not expect [our Instagram] to have more than 500 followers [and] for all the monthly meetings to be full.” The overwhelmingly positive reception came as a shock, albeit a pleasant one.

Room to Grow

Naturally, the success of the Malaysian branch begs the question; will this international book club choose to read a book by one of our local authors next? The answer is unfortunately not that simple. Yasmin stated that the lengthy book selection process and the club’s expansive To Be Read pile are the biggest hindrances. Par for the course with a book club this massive; 50 different chapters nominate their novels and only one book is selected every month.

Never say never though, as the club has read books written by authors from all over the world. Next up, a Malaysian writer—fingers crossed. In the meantime, Yasmin set her sights on creating other activities and collaborations for the KL branch. Amongst her many ideas include a community bookshelf located at a cafe in Petaling Jaya, a book swap night, and a book drive. 

These projects remain in the early stages, however, as Yasmin will be returning to her home in Portugal at the end of this year and is currently looking for her replacement as chapter head. “For now, it’s more important to find a person who appreciates this effort and would love to continue it,” she said ruefully. Given the popularity of the Difficult Women Book Club KL, we’re positive that the position will be filled soon. 

Be sure to join the book club here.