Vienna Lit

Virginia Woolf thought heaven was probably “one continuous unexhausted reading.” But even if your idea of heaven features life beyond the library, if you fancy an opportunity to chat about what you’ve been reading, Vienna Lit’s book group is a promising place to start.

The English language reading group is open to everyone, taking on a different book each month. When I moved here last winter, I googled my way to the website, and found the next book was the most recent offering from novelist Ben Fountain. A month later I wandered into a classroom in the university, and what followed was a great deal of animated, generous, unpretentious conversation – much to think about, and no shortage of laughter. Many of the attendees were regulars, and everyone was welcome.


A common place

Beyond the book group, Vienna Lit alerts you to live literary events

Beyond the book group, Vienna Lit alerts you to live literary events | Photo: Glen Sweeney

The group – and Vienna Lit itself – is the creation of Julia Latja-Novak, a young lecturer at the University of Vienna. Long before there was a book club culture in Austria, Novak had spent a year in London, where she joined a total of eight book groups. It was an excellent way to meet new people. Because everyone has read the same book, she says, “it gives you a common place that you can always return to.”

Back in Vienna in 2005, Novak launched Vienna Lit. “I enjoy the mix of people who come along,” she says. Many are expats; some are students, alumni, local teachers, or Viennese wanting to practice their English. She has found a sponsor in Bobby’s Foodstore, who provide snacks for the monthly meet-ups.  And often the conversation, after a couple of hours, shifts to a local bar.


The literary life

Vienna Lit also sends out monthly newsletters, highlighting literary events in English all over the city. In the past, the society has organised two large literary festivals – with writers such as Lionel Shriver and Jackie Kay – and the newsletter provides notifications of readings around town, or lectures at the university.

Eight years in, the book group has become a modest institution. While the list is mostly literary fiction, it occasionally slips into other territory; once, a book of poems, another month, Harry Potter. At each meeting, the group decides what they will read next. This month, it’s the women’s prize winner May We Be Forgiven – a novel which seems to rival HBO for action. In the first fourteen pages alone, there is a car crash, a bit of adultery, and – with a bedroom lamp as weapon – a murder…


Next book group meeting: 

Monday 9 Sept., 18:00 19:45

May We Be Forgiven

by A.M. Homes

Unibräu, Campus AAKH
9., Spitalgasse 2, Hof 1

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