With graduation just around the corner for many UP senior English majors, the question of how to stay engaged with literature after college is becoming more pertinent. While the freedom to read whatever strikes your fancy may sound appealing now, once jobs, family, and other responsibilities kick in analytical reading might drop on your list of priorities. One way to remain an English major at heart even when your traditional education has ceased, is to create and maintain an analytically-minded book club. Four recent grads decided to delve into Shakespeare’s plays for their “Bard’s Book Club.” Living in different cities they hold “virtual” book club to scratch their “English itch.” Here are founder and participant Whitney Simpson’s insights on how it’s worked so far:
I never doubted that I would continue reading after finishing school. Reading for class, with few exceptions, had been mere extra reading for me since my fourth-grade days spending recess with a book. During college, I had to go as far as prohibiting myself from fun reading in order to complete my required coursework, even though my history and English majors occasionally doled out the chapters on medieval village life and E. M. Forster novels that I consider fun. Graduation therefore presented a return to the freedom to read whatever I wanted whenever I wanted: no more papers on books I hated from the first page, no more agonizing discussions with strongly-opinionated classmates, no more pacing back and forth in my room reading Hegel out loud simply in order to understand the assigned ten pages—just books. Despite all of the aspects of school I expected to miss, I did not question once if I would continue my eighteen-year-long relationship with language and literature.
This assumption incorporated one small but not insignificant flaw: I failed to take into account how much less I get out of reading when I do it alone. To this day, I can still recall a particularly meaningful scene or line from almost every book I studied in twelfth-grade AP English, while I could not but be silent if questioned about a single work I read on my own two summers ago. If I was going to keep learning from my reading and not just pass the time idly, I needed to devise a way to keep the interactive, communal aspect of it as well.
Out of this realization (and an online quiz that shamed me into the admission that I couldn’t name more than half of Shakespeare’s plays) came the Bard’s Book Club. College offered me the opportunity to read and see a handful of William Shakespeare’s works, but I resolved to complete my knowledge of the entire canon. I turned to a trusted friend, Katy Portell (also a 2012 UP alumnus, major in Communications), who loves Shakespeare even more than I do. Together, we then enlisted two other literature- and drama-lovers who had experienced Shakespearean performances, museums, and festivals with us in England: Liz Romero, another UP English alumnus, and Hannah Comerford, an English alumnus of Pacific Lutheran University. The four of us embarked on a year-and-a-half literary journey in September 2012.
Because we all live in different cities—in two different time zones, as a matter of fact—our arrangements are complex in a few ways. We have to meet and record our progress online with the help of video chat programs, social media, and a blog. Yet our concept is rather simple: we choose, read, and discuss a Shakespeare play every two weeks. Katy, Hannah, Liz, and I take turns picking the plays and writing the reflections on the blog, and everyone contributes her thoughts during our hour-long meetings. The logistics are difficult sometimes, but it’s certainly not a bad way to read some of the most famous works of the English language. Perhaps the most dreadful part is that we can’t share snacks during our discussions, which has led to some tense and envious moments.
We have just completed our tenth play, All’s Well that Ends Well, and have twenty-eight to go. Even so early in its course, the Bard’s Book Club has led me to plays that I had already studied and plays that I knew nothing about. The experience has been fruitful beyond my expectations so far: I keep in contact with some of my closest friends, read challenging and beautiful literature, and discuss everything from modern staging to sixteenth-century politics on a bi-weekly basis. Reading as part of a group also forces me to look at issues and themes that I don’t notice on my own, since all of us have something of our own interests and education backgrounds to bring to the conversation. Katy and Liz point out how the play would be staged and acted, Hannah focuses on poetic elements, and I am the go-to member for historical tidbits. Additionally, we are each eager to use the analytical skills we acquired in college and abroad for fun and personal growth. Learning doesn’t have to end with studentship, and neither does appreciating English when being an English major becomes a label of the past. Liz, Katy, Hannah, and I are relieved for that.
You can follow our progress, and all of our muddling, at http://thebardsbookclub.wordpress.com/.