Class 8: Book Clubs!

Bluebeard with his bride, by Edmund Dulac

Illustration by Edmund Dulac for “Blue Beard” (

For this post, I would like to start with some points on the readings that I had not thought of that came up in the book clubs. Afterward, I will briefly reflect on the overall process of conducting and participating in these book clubs.

“For Comfort and Posterity, Digital Archives Gather Crowds” by Jennifer Howard

  • One topic of discussion was  how to regulate the quality and content of such an archive and whether this was even necessary or ethical.
  • One person mentioned the significance of capturing people’s memories because sometimes there is only one person left who still remembers a particular event. These people may not always be the “major players” in an event, but might have just been “in the right place at the right time.”

“The Syrian Opposition Is Disappearing from Facebook” by Michael Pizzi (click here for article)

  • One point of discussion was how Facebook has taken on or been faced with many more roles than it probably initially intended. Questions arise from this. Is/can Facebook act as a kind of repository? Should Facebook take sides on political issues?
  • One question that the discussion leaders raised was whether graphic content was necessary. One of our group members expressed that, although he is sympathetic to the cause of the Syrian opposition, he does not want to see graphic content. Probably, there are quite a few of us who feel the same way.

“The Use of Force” by William Carlos Williams (click here for story)

  • Because the narrative structure was set up for the reader to feel as though one was hearing the very personal thoughts of the narrator/doctor, I felt somewhat more sympathetic to the doctor than many of the rest of my group members did. It was interesting to hear the group discuss the story from the child’s and parents’ perspectives, as well.
  • Someone brought up the possibility that class struggle (between the parents and doctor) may have also been a theme, since it is possible to read the parents as immigrants.

“Blue Beard,” Illustrated by Edmund Dulac (click here for story)

  • As a warning against curiosity seemed to be the main moral of the story, we discussed curiosity from at least a couple of different angles. I particularly liked someone’s point that there are often stories warning against women’s curiosity (i.e., using a gender framework to read this tale).
  • The discussion leaders’ brought up a particularly interesting question of why the wife is never named. We talked about whether this could mean that the wife really has no voice or agency throughout or whether it could also make the wife a more universal kind of character, either in the sense that she can be universally related to or that she is made into just another generic female character.

“Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood (click here for story)

  • One person mentioned that the title is in quotes, making the happiness of the endings questionable. I had not noticed this at all before!
  • When trying to see whether people responded to the story in terms of gender at all, it seemed most people had not done so. For example, one person mentioned that she read the tale with Atwood’s reputation as a writer, not as a feminist, in mind.

Overall Assessment

These book clubs were a fun, more informal way to prepare materials for and engage with my classmates. One of the aspects that I loved of my English major was that it was an opportunity to read a text in many different ways. These book clubs were no different. As you can see from my bullet points above, there were many factors I would never have considered without talking to the other group members. Everyone was engaged, and participants did their best to be active in order to support the discussion leaders.

I did find two factors particularly challenging, though:

1) As the professor mentioned in class, it can be difficult, sometimes, to know when to allow space for discussion, to hold back from leading too much. Although I am usually a fairly reserved person, the thought of silence in a book club I was running made me nervous, so I am not sure how effective I was in keeping myself from jumping in too often.

2) Three hours of doing most anything is difficult, even when it is something fun and engaging like our book clubs. Ultimately, I think our desire to make this experience a success, as well as frequent food breaks helped us get through and make this book club event a worthwhile one for all.



2 thoughts on “Class 8: Book Clubs!

  1. Your last point is spot on. I would not have made it to the end of that day without food. I liked the workshops better because they varied a little more from each other in design so it felt like a whole new activity. Also I think having a slightly bigger room helped.

    I had a lot of sympathy for the doctor in “The Use of Force” too. Maybe it’s because I was a child doctors and my mother needed to use force on. One particular time I remember is three people holding me down while I was kicking and screaming to get ear wax removed. I was six or seven and knew better, but no amount of talking was going to calm me down because it HURT, so they had to go for it. Although the doctor in the story should have foreseen that tongue depressor breaking and used something metal before ripping her mouth to shreds.

  2. I really enjoyed hearing how other people in my section had interpreting things in our readings differently than I did–that was one of my favorite parts of majoring in English, and I definitely miss it sometimes. I know I didn’t do as well with letting silent moments happen while leading my own book club. I had a hard time stepping back and allowing our participants to think without butting in.

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