Saturday, June 28, 2014

Starting a Book Club

Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, and so many other literature classics are only a free download away. 
Gabrielle Bordwin, cover design
Gail Belenson, cover design

Today I talked with my Aunt Ernestine (affectionately known as Tina), and she told me that she reads
the classics all the time. She became an avid reader of the classics when she bought a Nook a few years ago and learned that she could download classic ebooks for free. We had an interesting conversation about how her interpretations of books are always different from interpretations of others. I explained that this is quite normal. Actually, this is what makes book clubs so momentous and curious because book club members bring their own unique interpretations to the meeting place.  

In her transactional theory, Louise Rosenblatt describes the fascinating relationship between the reader, the text, and the resulting transaction between the two: 
The reader brings to the work personality traits, memories of past events, present needs and preoccupations, a particular mood of the moment, and a particular physical condition. These and many other elements in a never-to-be-duplicated combination determine his response to the peculiar contributions of the text. (as cited in Church, 1997, pp. 30-31) 

The diversity of our responses to the books we read is the perfect recipe for a stimulating book club, which is why I suggested to Tina that she start a book club--one that focuses on classic literature. We brainstormed for ideas on how we could make this an exciting book club. Here are some of our ideas:
  • Meet every other month so members will not think of it as a chore but rather miss it and look eagerly to the upcoming sessions.
  • Meet at the library or take turns hosting at members' homes.
  • Celebrate an era by arriving in costume.
  • Celebrate a cuisine by serving food specific to the setting of the featured book.
  • Pay tribute to a character by throwing a party for him or her.
  • Listen to music specific to the era of the featured book.
  • Watch the movie based on the book.
  • Perform a skit based on a passage.
  • Re-write the ending.
  • Describe what the sequel or prequel should be.
  • Erase long-distant boundaries by making use of technology: use Skype, FaceTime, and/or Google Hangouts to allow those living in various cities to participate.
  • My personal favorite—Create a "found" poem by writing down aesthetically pleasing short phrases from the book and arranging them into a poem. 
One of my favorite authors is Lisa See. As I read her book Peony in Love, I highlighted phrases that I thought were beautifully woven together. Here is a portion of the “found” poem I pieced together with the words:
"My eyes were shaped like bamboo leaves; my brows were like gentle brushstrokes limned by a calligrapher. My cheeks glowed the pale pink of a peony petal"  (pp. 3-4)
"I envisioned my lily feet—hidden under my flowing skirt—blooming with each step" (p. 35)
"My mind was dense with memories of the young man’s breath against my cheek and his whispered words" (p. 41)

See Starting a Book Club, Part 2 for more ideas.

Stay tuned for updates on this future classic literature book club.

How have books made an impact on your life? This is the story in you. Share it.



Church, G. (1997, Spring). The significance of Louise Rosenblatt on the field of teaching literature. Inquiry, 1(1), 71-77. Retrieved from

Hawthorne, N. (2000). The scarlet letter. New York: N.Y. Modern Library.

Miller, A. (1982). The crucible. New York: N.Y. Penguin Group.

See, L. (2008). Peony in love. New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks

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