by Allyson M. Fields
The English classroom isn’t the only place to read and discuss literature. In the last few years, reading groups have gained much popularity. Odds are good that somewhere close by, there’s already a group of people who meet every once in a while to discuss readings chosen by common interest. A passion for reading and discussing books is all you need if you want to get involved.
Rutgers English Instructor Regina Masiello and her students are one example. Ms. Masiello taught a section of Principles of Literary Study last year, and had to drop John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost from the syllabus due to lack of time. Instead of giving up on the classic work, a few students decided to form a reading group the following semester, meeting weekly to discuss Milton’s masterpiece. “These students were simply incredible; they were there because they love to read,” says Ms. Masiello. “They taught me something new at every meeting.” University College student John DeLaurentis says, “This reading group was one of my fondest memories of pursuing my English degree at Rutgers.”
Faculty and graduate students also organized a reading group this semester, celebrating the 400th anniversary of Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quixote by reading it together. Some scholars call Don Quixote the first modern novel, a tale that traces the protagonist’s life and transformations as he comes to terms with social change. “It’s been a fun experience for us” said Professor Meredith McGill, “partly because no one in the group is an expert on Cervantes and that makes it easy for us to read together purely for pleasure.”
Ironically, it is Quixote’s solitary love of books that makes him unable to cope with a society measured by logic and reason. In contrast, Trish Hall, a journalist for The New York Times, argues that reading groups are often uniting influences in today’s world. “The members of some groups become more than just friends. They become family tied together by tradition and ritual.”
If you are interested in joining a reading group, your public library should have information about meetings in your area. Internet-based reading and discussion groups hosted by bookstore websites such as barnesandnoble.com are a less social experience, but one great advantage is that the authors being discussed will sometimes participate.
If you want to create your own reading group, many major publishers provide you with step by step guidelines for building a group and planning interesting meetings – see the links below for more information.
Reading With Friends
Starting in September of 2005, Friends of Rutgers English is planning to organize reading groups focused on the works of visiting Writers at Rutgers. You can get involved by reading the books, discussing them, then coming to hear the authors speak. If you would be interested in participating in a reading and discussion group, either on campus or online, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-932-7612.
Guides for Starting, and Running, a Reading Group
Barnes and Noble’s Online Book Club