The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been doing a common reading program since the 2009-2010 school year, when they featured Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. In 2010-2011, they read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and in 2011-2012, Enrique’s Journey. To be honest, even though I’ve been in Madison since 2007, I’ve never had anything to do with it. I love Michael Pollan’s work, but didn’t read that one. I read a preview chapter on my Kindle of Henrietta Lacks, but never followed up. I did read Enrique’s Journey, but after the fact this August, and it came on my radar independently.
This year, they are reading Radioactive by Lauren Redniss. Now that I am more officially attached to the university through library school, I was given a copy through my course this semester. We are using it for a couple course activities, from examining the sources/archives of the research to investigating grants supporting community reading programs such as this one.
For the record, I read it a few weeks ago and it was DELIGHTFUL. Marie and Pierre Curie were incredible and I wish that I had been exposed to more of their life history earlier. The book was a sort of graphic novel and the art was pretty neat. The cyanotypes made the pages look almost transparent and well, the cover glowed in the dark. So cool. I wasn’t able to attend the presentation by Lauren Redniss when she was on campus the other day, but there are lots of other activities all year long that might be interesting.
Sometimes, my church organizes a book group that I participate in. I’ve read books with them about the saints, Ignatian Spirituality and the founder of the St. Vincent de Paul. Always lively discussions, but often too much material in too short a meeting period. The last book they did only met twice (half the book each time) and let’s just say that I only had enough time to read about a third–but I went anyway.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about book clubs and my direct experience with them. What is the appeal? You see, when you CHOOSE to read something and it turns out to be interesting (for the positive or the negative), I think it’s human nature to want to discuss what you’ve learned. While books invoke the imagination within, I think it’s even better to let the ideas out.
I want to start my own.
The idea came up over the summer while I was in a teacher inservice to start some book clubs with the high school kids at the school I work at. It would be so simple, so fun, so perfect. Even my ESL students, who mostly aren’t the greatest or motivated readers [in English], have expressed interest when I’ve told them about how people sometimes go to book clubs and talk about what they’re reading. If they’d be tempted to participate, I KNOW there are avid readers who would also be game.
Ideally, we would do it during the lunch periods (we have three) so that the kids who are hyper-involved with clubs and sports and part0time jobs could participate. If we selected three books, and each book had a group that met during each lunch, we would need 9 staff members to host the groups. Weekly would probably be too frequent and monthly too spread out to keep people engaged, so I think every other week would be best.
I stopped by the local public library to talk to the children’s librarian there. Once we get this rolling, I’m hoping she’ll be a good resource for book selection or even securing copies of the books. There is another English teacher and the school librarian that I work with who’ve expressed interest in making this happen, so I think there is a good chance that it will!
And for the love of reading, getting more kids to read for fun is a very good thing.