The Book Group was launched in October 2020 as a way to bring English students and staff together online during the lockdown necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Each week, one person talks about and reads from a book they cherish or wish to share, for whatever reason. It might be because the book is a favourite, because it has special meaning, because it deserves to be more widely known, or simply because it’s a good read. Any book is permissible, from to Finnegans Wake to Winnie-the-Pooh. Titles so far have included Felice Benuzzi’s mountaineering memoir No Picnic on Mount Kenya (1952), Alexander Chee’s essay collection How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (2018) and Anna Burns’ Booker Prize-winning novel Milkman (2018). The weekly get-togethers are a great way to widen your knowledge of literature; so far we haven’t featured a book that everyone knows. There’s also enormous pleasure to be found in the readings. It’s wonderful to see people enraptured by the magic of words.
The silence that prevails as participants listen attentively to the presenter is contrasted with the lively chat that explodes after the reading and talk. Some people ask questions about the book, others type comments in the chat box. The discussion quickly sparks off in multiple directions, often away from the text, which is fine since this is a social event, not a seminar. It’s rather like being at a party with different conversations going on at once as people tuck into snacks (Dr Sarah Graham: crisps; Dr Mary Ann Lund: chocolate).
Although everyone who attends Book Group is serious about books, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. The presenter biographies reflect the informal, playful mood of the group: ‘I have spent lockdown in amateur kayaking and unintentional guinea pig breeding’; ‘my Myer Briggs personality type is ENTJ, which puts me in the company of Gordon Ramsay, Margaret Thatcher and Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada)’; ‘when I am not studying, I am busy fighting crime on the streets of Leicester.’
As the bios attest, Book Group not only affords an opportunity to learn more about books but also about each other. It’s the only event in the School that brings together tutors, undergraduates from all three years, and MA and PhD students. There’s also a special guest student from Medicine. When her email address was accidentally added to the distribution list, she – being a book lover – decided to come along and has returned every week, testament to the power and pleasure of literature as well as the friendliness of people in English.
The joy of Book Group stems as much from the group as the books. There’s a sense of community and belonging. ‘I look forward to this every week’, wrote one student. ‘This is the highlight of my week!’, declared another.
If you would like to share a book you love, get in touch. Or just come along – Book Group is currently held on Fridays, 4-5pm.
Dr Emma Parker
10 responses to “The Book Group”
This book group has been a real beacon of light this year – a real community. Thank you Emma for organising it, and everyone who’s a part ot it.
This blog post sums up Book Group perfectly! It is fun, insightful and eclectic. It has been a great way of bringing the school (and beyond) together and I now have an ever-updating list of recommended reads too.
I look forward to this book group so much. It’s become one of my social highlights which isn’t saying much, I know, in lockdown – but it’s such a reminder of the power of shared reading. I love seeing familiar faces, undergraduate, postgrad, and staff all coming together – and finding out about unfamiliar books I can discover. Thanks Emma for organizing every week.
As a part time MA student who hasn’t been able to meet all the students on my course this year because of lockdown, the book group has been an excellent way of meeting other students and sharing ideas about books.
Book Group is just fantastic. A real light at the end of the week,with wonderful people and fab conversations and readings.
Book group is a great way of meeting friendly people who are passionate about books. It’s a nice, comfortable way to end the week, talking about books with some very quirky digressions. I look forward to it every week!
There are so many things I love about the Book Group. The friendly, relaxed atmosphere – you can chat about books, digress, share ideas – and the mix of people that attend every week: undergrads, postgrads, staff. It’s been lovely to connect with people I hadn’t met before and catch up with those I already know but don’t see much because of the lockdown. It’s as much a social event as a book discussion group and it works really well on both counts. A highlight of the week!
I am so grateful for this book club! I have made so many new friends and it’s so nice to have this bond with everyone that I would have never had before. It’s nice to share our points of view and there are so many humorous discussions we have too (Fuzzy Felt).
I absolutely love book group. Its a wonderful place to learn about books you’ve never even heard of and to have fun and insightful conversations on the different books with great people.
I don’t know what I would have done without book group this year – it has been such an amazing thing to be part of! Chatting to everyone about books (among other things) has been the highlight of my week. I’ve added so many books to my to-read list, and have really valued feeling part of a community during such an isolating time. It really shows what a great department we have that staff and students can come together even online to have fun and connect. Looking forward to more in the future!