During the past year I have been enrolled in a certification course organized and run by a wonderful professor. Until late March, the classes were held on campus. When the schools shut down due to the pandemic, we moved to meeting on online each week. In addition, the professor saw a need to be filled beyond the weekly meetings for class and offered a virtual shared reading option to help us stay connected beyond the course content. As a result, he set up through the university website a twice a week opportunity for us students and for anyone who wished to join.
Since its inception, our little community of lovers of literature has been meeting each Tuesday and Thursday after work hours for one hour. The beauty of the community is that it is not the common place book club. In the traditional clubs, members choose a book, read in advance, maybe have guiding question and then gather together to discuss what was read and learned.
In our shared reading meetings, we do not prepare by reading anything in advance! Whew! That takes that pressure off, doesn’t it, in terms of needing to find time to read what was assigned?!!
Through the magic of Zoom, the prof started us with Ray Bradbury’s novel, Dandelion Wine. He used screen share to show us the book from his Kindle app. A novel of about 300 pages, it is not the typical Bradbury book and takes place in the Mid-West in 1928. One could say it is part autobiographical when the author was a 12-year-old boy. The imagery, the scenes, the vocabulary, nuances and threads are delightful even though somewhat dark.
At the beginning of each of our meetings, we would take a few minutes to catch up with each other and then the prof would begin to read aloud. He would stop at any place in the text that he felt was a good spot to go back, analyze and discuss what he read. Then each of us would take turns reading aloud if we wished, choosing a point to pause in which to have discussion and simply share our insights of the writing such as what Bradbury was trying to convey to the reader, why he used the language he did, what was part of his real childhood, how did each section connect and where would it go next.
As an extremely brilliant person who was an English major about 45 years ago and lover of the classics, the prof’s skills in asking open ended questions solicited from each of us our thoughts and personal connections to the text, all the while being done without judgment. Each person was free to share whatever came to mind on one’s own or in response to someone else’s comments.
In May we finished the book and the semester ended. I must say I never would have read that book on my own and even if I did, I never in a million years would have gotten so much out of it! True learning as a community!
As a group and as the pandemic has continued to impact our ability to be with each other, we chose to keep the group going. So, in June, we began to read classic poems and excerpts from classics that the prof would bring to us. Poems by Baldwin and Emerson; text by Woolf and Williams. We have even enjoyed analyzing song lyrics such as those by Bob Dylan by listening to the songs and reading the lyrics a piece at a time, digging into the mysteriousness of each item we explore together.
Currently we are reading a more modern-day novel, Open City. We have been on a new journey as a group, learning about the life of the narrator who is Nigerian and is a psychiatrist living in NYC around the year 2008. Very different than Bradbury or the other texts yet lends to in-depth chats on what is happening, may happen and any connections to today’s world or to past texts we have shared.
Despite summer’s end approaching and the possibility of more of us returning to working in our actual work locations, however long that may last, we plan to keep going if we can into the fall and beyond. I must say the shared book reading community has been a wonderful gift to me. I have only missed 2 sessions and consider the meetings as highlights of my week. To dig into literature that I never would have considered or taken time to pick apart has been enlightening and joyful. I have learned much from the community while we have also gotten to know each other. I have made new friends through the enjoyment of a pressure free ‘book club’ . It has been a splendid experience and is one that I highly recommend to others who are passionate about literature.
I have to admit that when the idea was presented, I was not so sure of joining, mainly because of the book that had been selected; the Bradbury book, since he is not an fav of mine. But, being that it was my prof who I greatly admire and respect running the community as well as due to my intense drive to learn all I can through whatever experiences come my way, it became a door to a new world. By the end of the first night, I knew I was hooked. What a way to stimulate my thinking and connecting in a non-judgmental way with other adults while in isolation and physical distancing! And thank goodness for platforms such as Zoom to help ease the influence of the pandemic on all of us!
May I invite you to take the initiative to create shared reading groups with colleagues, friends and/or family to expand your horizons? I am certain you will find it enriching and fulfilling in so many ways!
Happy shared reading!