If you’re a student looking for intellectual stimulation of a different breed, consider the informal book clubs held each month around town, existing outside the familiar realm of the colleges. On November 7, I attended The Oxford Book Club, typically held in Copa on George Street.
There, I found an eclectic group of characters, nearly 40 of them, who ranged in age from late 20s to early 60s. Though I was doubtlessly one of the youngest attendees, I didn’t feel out of place among the others, who attend the meetings with the expectation of conversing with strangers over a pint. Run by a friendly and outgoing employee of Oxford University Press, the meeting was relaxed, with most of the attendees already packing a few years of steady book club attendance under his or her belt.
For the session I attended, we were asked to read The Pearl by John Steinbeck, a book just brief enough to fit easily into a schedule of required university reading. One of the members remarked that sometimes book clubs don’t discuss the selected book at all, but that was not the case for this club. After ten minutes of chatter (about the hot topic of whether Scotland has more trees than England) and introductions, the organiser called for us to begin discussing.
One of the men at the table shared his controversial, unconventional take on the book, and between that and the comments from the others at the table, including a medievalist who works on a Latin dictionary in her spare time, the discussion moved quickly. When half of the table was asked to switch to the next table, it formed a different mixture of people who asked questions about the interpretation of one of the book’s vital scenes, and disagreed about the portrayal of its characters.If you’re looking for the sort of discussions you’d have in an English literature tutorial, you’re likely not to find it in a book club. These events serve as more of a social function, for meeting the types of people Oxford students wouldn’t normally encounter during the fast-paced terms.
Whereas assigned reading typically leaves you feeling as though you must determine every theme and symbol, the appeal of book clubs is that it’s a roomful of people who aren’t concerned with how in-depth your analysis of the text is. Providing a casual environment where attendees can talk as much or as little as they desire, book clubs should be experienced at least once for their benefits as an alternative type of social gathering.