When two friends of Managing Editor Betsy Ladyzhets told her they were starting a book club at Barnard, she was amazed – there are college students who somehow want to do even more reading? The concept seemed fairly fantastical. Betsy went to the group’s first meeting last night to find out how they plan to operate, and to remind herself that reading doesn’t always have to be a source of stress.
LeFrak 117 has held bad memories for me ever since my first-year seminar last year, during which a gray-haired history professor droned on about twentieth-century Europe while his students tried to ignore his poorly-concealed distaste for their entire generation. But last night, the room seemed entirely transformed – rather than a boring professor, disengaged students, and unread texts, I found kind smiles, engaging conversation, and several varieties of tea and cookies.
A sign on the board proclaimed that this was the interest meeting for Barnard Bookworms, the college’s first ever book club. The meeting’s stated start time was 8 pm, but its organizers, Kira Mitchel, BC ’19 and Shruti Varadarajan, BC ’19, waited a few minutes for latecomers (and snack consumption) before getting started.
The meeting’s first piece of official business was to find out all of the attendees’ favorite books. This question was quickly amended to be either a favorite book or a book you read recently, because several people immediately complained that choosing just one favorite was impossible. Answers ranged from The Martian to Howl’s Moving Castle, and I found myself writing down several titles so that I would remember to look them up later.
After going through favorite books, Kira and Shruti talked about their reasons for starting the club. They explained that they, as well as several friends, felt as though they wanted to continue reading for pleasure during college, but never seemed able to find the time. Both Kira and Shruti are biology majors, and a quick survey of the rest of the room revealed that almost all of the meeting’s attendees were majoring in the sciences as well.
“Science majors are always memorizing amino acids or whatever, but they don’t make time for novels,” Kira said.
Shruti then added that the group is for students of all majors – as long as you love reading, the Barnard Bookworms would love to have you. (And you don’t have to be a Barnard student, either; one of last night’s new members was a junior in CC.)
“A lot of people who wanted to come today couldn’t because they had too much work,” Shruti said. “Which is kind-of proving our point? Like, you should make time for reading.”
The two organizers then went over the club’s structure: each month will have a theme and a book going along with that theme. After a theme is announced, members will be able to suggest books that they believe fit the theme, and then the club will vote to determine which book they’ll read. Themes can be anything – Kira suggested fantasy and books with yellow covers as potential future themes. There will be two meetings per month, in order to encourage members to read throughout the month rather than struggling to get through the entire book in the last few days before the meeting.
February’s theme is nostalgia, and the book is The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, a coming of age novel written as a sequence of short stories. A poll will be sent out soon to everyone on the club’s listerv in order to determine the best day and time for the next meeting, about two weeks from now.
Barnard Bookworms will have to meet for a semester before they can apply to become an officially recognized club for GBB (Governing Board at Barnard), but the librarians in LeFrak have kindly agreed to book space for meetings for now. Kira and Shruti plan to rely on the New York Public Library and Columbia’s online databases for books, so members shouldn’t have to spend any money.
The official part of the meeting ended around 8:30 pm, but most of its attendees stuck around to continue talking about books, classes, and other shared interests. I found myself joining the conversation, and was cheered by how enthusiastic these science majors were about making time for fun reading in their lives. If the Barnard Bookworms are doing one thing, they’re proving that the divide between STEM and humanities majors is as tenuous as the divide between Columbia and Barnard. I would be surprised if the group doesn’t continue to grow (and if its snacks don’t continue to be delicious).
Barnard Bookworm sign by Razia Sultana, photo via Betsy Ladyzhets