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How Reading Circles Are Doing What Classrooms Are Failing To Do

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Reading has been a habit of many. Exploring different worlds – real and fictional – through pages has been both a delight as well as a source of knowledge. This, however, has been a more or less personal exercise for most.

Even though infrequent discourse about the books is persistent, there have not been many opportunities presented to read more communally in a group setting. But the awareness of online reading circles and book clubs on various platforms such as Clubhouse, Discord, and others has increased as a result of the pandemic.

Reading interpersonally as a group enables people to learn from the freedoms given – as stated in this article published by The Centre for Inquiry In Education.

This, in turn, leads to a deeper understanding of their reading, developing a more profound knowledge of other people through their conversations and providing opportunities to debate safely.

A man reading a book
Reading in a group outside of your institution or organisation allows you to explore specific domains that you may not have explored previously. Representational image.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Young people today are more motivated than ever to effect change and champion their causes. To accomplish this, it is necessary first to learn and then unlearn.

So, I spoke to a few people about their experiences being a part of these circles, their importance, the larger picture, and everything in between.

Self And Social Enrichment Through Interaction

Oli Chatterjee, a recent Miranda House graduate who co-founded the book club – Oxford Comma, The Book Club in their college with two other peers before the pandemic struck, shares similar perceptions.

“It has been incredibly valuable to me in terms of readership and learning about newer literary works. It aids in the development of your process of communication, allowing you to learn new ideas and express them more effectively. If you are curious and want to broaden your horizons, joining a reading circle is the best thing you can do because it keeps you in the process of being curious and inquisitive,” Oli remarks when asked about the importance of reading in social environments.

In a book club, you get to connect to other people. You can spend hours chatting with people who share your curiosity; it’s a more insightful way to maintain an active social life. Having someone else choose or recommend your reading material exposes you to new genres and styles that you might not have discovered otherwise.

According to this blog post by Monash Student Association, this increases the amount of material you might read in the future and allows you to gain new perspectives on different people and cultures. Reading outside of your areas of interest can help you develop as a person.

Students reading in a park
It is essential to better understand the world around us, and affiliating current affairs with historical and sociological context helps. Photo: Deepak Sethi/Getty Images

When reading texts outside of your comfort zone, you are likely to encounter new terms and ideas that require deliberate discussion to comprehend. “It’s very nice. We have the opportunity to discuss our own perspectives on various ideas mentioned in the reading material. For example, certain academic jargon that sometimes goes over my head, it’s helpful to have someone with you to clear it out,” says Simran, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Applied Psychology at Amity University while also working as a copywriter.

They are currently involved in two different reading circles, one at work and the other at Blahcksheep Rear Reads (run by The Blahcksheep).

Outside Of The Curriculum, Inside Of The Socio-Political Climate

Reading in a group outside of your institution or organisation allows you to explore specific domains that you may not have had the opportunity to explore previously or are generally curious about.

 

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Abhineet Nayyar currently works for an impact consulting firm based in Bangalore, and is a member of a reading circle that focuses on Left-wing literature.

“I joined because I was very interested in the subject. I was more interested in learning the Left theory. Obviously, I didn’t have the opportunity to engage myself with it when I was in college pursuing a degree in Engineering,” he says when asked about his interest in this specific domain. The circle focuses on Leftist histories in India and how they have formed and evolved within the context of more significant Leftist movements.

Such reading circles can help people learn about topics outside of their field. Understanding political theories do not necessitate a degree in Political Science.

As mentioned in this article by Antipode Online, being a part of a group that combines radical thought, stories of radical action, and reflection on the efficacy of various types of radical action is profoundly transformative. The group positively challenges people. It is a supportive and encouraging environment, but it is also a critical space for idea development.

“There are discussions about, say, ‘Left and Caste’ or ‘Left and Gender.’ Then there are discussions about the Left’s histories or the conceptions of violence with which the Left engages or used to engage. As most people in the circle are here to learn, these discussions are largely theoretical,” Abhineet continues.

What To Read, And What Not To

When it comes to the selection of books, every member’s opinion must be taken into account. Different genres, authors, backgrounds, and so on are all considered, but at the heart of it all, the readings contribute to the holistic learning experience as discussed above. Some people prefer to engage with contemporary texts, while others prefer to follow a historical path – or perhaps both on occasions.

Children reading together
Being a part of a reading group is profoundly transformative. It is a supportive and encouraging environment, but it is also a critical space for idea development. Representational image.

It is essential to better understand the world around us, and affiliating current affairs with historical and sociological context helps. Oli believes that even if a text is centuries old, we must read and absorb it to engage with current reality more informedly. “We have always felt it was important to nurture and guide our club’s members toward becoming more politically informed,” they say.

Forbidden or controversial books frequently deal with practical, timely, and topical issues. Young people may find a character going through the same thing they are, making for a powerful reading experience and helping the reader sort through complex issues such as grief, divorce, sexual assault, bullying, prejudice, and sexual identity.

According to this article by Butler University, books have historically been banned or censored due to a misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the book’s contents and message. Although a book may have been banned or labelled in a particular way, the reader must form their own opinions about it.

“In none of the circles do we impose rules about what to read and what not to read? You’re good to go as long as you’re reading. People in one of my circles bring their own books that may be of interest to them, and we read them together. This takes us outside of our normal spheres of knowledge,” Simran comments on the books they pick in their clubs.

Two people in a library going through books
One of the primary goals of these reading circles is to bring people from various backgrounds together. Representational image.

Representation In The Literature

As they have already been established, one of the primary goals of these reading circles is to bring people from various backgrounds together. Participating in and engaging in discussions with people from different backgrounds than your own allows you to form new perceptions and learn first-hand experiences rather than those presented in popular media, which people widely appropriate.

“Since we come from a women’s college, it started as a club for only women college students. But we now have more people because we grew our circle to online mode in the pandemic. However, it was critical for us to have people from various backgrounds (castes, religions, etc.) join and start conversations.

In classrooms, the usual pattern was for only the privileged population to speak up. As a result, we made it a point to make this a place where everyone can speak freely and without fear of repercussions,” Oli says when asked about the representation in their book club.

 

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Even with all of our efforts as a community to diversify our social circles, as Abhineet points out, there are always limitations. “Members of our reading circle are a bit hesitant to reveal their true identities online because the circle deals with socialist literature. They are afraid, and rightly so, that their lives could become very uncomfortable if this information got out,” he says.

The results revealed that the majority of the people in the group came from affluent or high-income families. This is obviously because most circles now operate solely on a digital basis, which is only accessible to the privileged.

Reading circles are a growing trend in our society. It is more diverse than most professional settings, making it a more grounded learning environment. While it has some limitations, it is ultimately a place to grow and interact with the larger world.

Note: The author is part of the Sept-Nov ’21 batch of the Writer’s Training Program

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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