Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Radiant Knowledge~ A Perspective on Book Clubs

Guest Blogger Bio:  Linda Emma is a college instructor, author, freelance writer and writing coach. Her first novel, Prime Meridian, was published in 2009. Her second work was compiled from her blog ( and is available in digital format: Kids Suck.  Exactly the opposite of what its title implies, Kids Suck is a forthright and humorous look at raising children in the 21st century. Started as a blog (ironically constructed by the author’s son) the musings in Kids Suck offer a real-world look at the rocky roller coaster ride that is the journey of today’s parent. The author relates humorous and heartfelt stories about her own children, the children in her life and the students with whom she works at a small New England college, to bring to light the ups and downs and twists and turns that take place before the surefire collision of parents and children.

Radiant Knowledge (excerpted from a post of the same title on

When book clubs first came into vogue in our area, my kids were little and reading for pleasure had been pushed to a back burner. When I eventually did accept an invite into such a group, though, I was glad for the return to my absent friends: books.

However, in those first groups, we often spent more time talking about our kids than the books. Not everyone completed the reading; books were sometimes chosen with an eye to complexity and length –against both. And there was often an exclusivity to the book groups that shunned some and admitted others with a rationale that I didn’t quite understand.

When the group disbanded, I didn’t try to fill the void.

Until my sister-in-law began regaling me with the content of her new book group, tempting me with literary works I thought I had missed out on; classics that can be attempted as solo project but are appreciated more when fully explored with other minds.

So I joined.

And I have yet to miss a meeting.

It is in part because of the books. But it’s way more because of the women.

They’re brilliant.

I could opt for a less hyperbolic adjective like smart or intelligent or even intellectual; they are all of those. But whenever I try to explain this group to others the word that invariable rises to the top is simply: brilliant.

But its members are not who you might envision. At all.

As fairly homogenous as they outwardly appear, the group intellect is somewhat eclectic –a Picasso painting hung above a Louis XVI cabinet; Old Testament vs. new Constitution. The PhD often acquiesces her train of thought to the postal worker. The English teacher sends kudos to a new view of an old book.

In discussion, the group members all pull from literature they’ve read, but even more so from the lives they’ve led. They have different educational strengths and backgrounds, view the world through a prism of perspectives. They get that not everyone’s path was paved with paper, that learning isn’t just about classrooms and books, that much of an intellectual pursuit comes from a willingness to open one’s mind. And they do just that. They share an eagerness to look anew at classic literature, to amend perceptions, to rethink old thoughts. They also share a common trait: they are all lifelong learners. Will always be.

Karen doesn’t allow us to give thumbs up or down to our books as we begin our discussion (although she knows if she’s late, it’s the first thing we mutineers will do) and although we protest, I think I understand from where she comes. This group isn’t about judgment; it’s about acceptance. We don’t have to like a book to discuss its placement among the classics. We don’t have to agree with an author’s point-of-view to absorb the content of his work. There’s merit in this reading, even when it’s difficult, perhaps particularly when it is.

But even if sometimes, I don’t like the book—sorry Karen—I always love the book group.

Because of the women, yes, but also because these works of literary art are best enjoyed together. Read first in solitude, they may spark an intellectual ember, but shared –they ignite a flame.