02 Oct 2023 – On reading groups
Ruth Wilson Gilmore says that reading groups are ‘one of the most beautiful pastimes there is on Earth’. I couldn’t agree more.
I started my first group, a book club, with a tweet (rip) in January 2018. A bunch of people responded, we set up a Whatsapp group and off we went.
Over nearly four years together (!!), we read…
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
- How to survive the plague by David France
- Flights by Olga Tokarczuk
- So Lucky by Nicola Griffith
- Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
- Milkman by Anna Burns
- Heart of the Race by Beverley Bryan
- My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
- The Book of Sarah by Sarah Lightman
- Lowborn by Kerry Hudson
- The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald
- Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
- The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing
- The Outline by Rachel Cusk
- Inner City Pressure by Dan Hancox
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
- The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
- The Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin
- Scoff by Pen Vogler
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams
Cor! What a list.
There was a slight fluctuation of members throughout, but the core group – Amy, Angus, Becky, Eliot, Jon, Liv, Lucy – were just brilliant. Many of them are writers, which really enriched the texts and made me think about reading in a different way.
Everyone brought such thoughtfulness, feeling and depth to the discussion. To share this magical space, even during a global pandemic, was a gift.
My current reading group started in February this year with my wonderful friend Marina, from my second MA at Goldsmiths. We invited people we had met over our studies, so we share a certain theoretical lineage.
So far we’ve read…
- ‘Nothing Comes Without Its World’: Thinking with Care by María Puig de la Bellacasa
- Introduction, The Government of Beans by Kregg Hetherington
- Part 1, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments by Sadiya Hartman
- Introduction, Abolition Geography by Ruth Wilson Gilmore
- Introduction, Azadi by Arundhati Roy
- Ch 4, Life Besides Itself by Lisa Stevenson
- Ch 1, Animal Biographies by Eric Baratay
We take turns meeting, usually monthly, at different people’s homes. It’s lovely and intimate.
It is a place to discuss ideas and theories, but also a place to poke at questions of knowledge production. Maybe sometimes even a place to explore who we are – as individuals and a collective. A place to consider what it means to be human.
We talk about the text, but also about childhood experiences, family, dreams and desires, about our trauma but also our joy. We share the thoughts that keep us up at night. We gossip a lot.
It is generous and nourishing and challenging.
When I think of this space I share – with Arianne, Marina, Martin, Pei-Chi, Rachel and Toby – I am overwhelmed with love. Love for the people, yes. But also for life.
All the struggle and torment of being alive is worth it for moments like these. Reading and talking and eating and drinking ... is this a buen vivir?
There’s a quote from The Undercommons that I cite all the time, where Fred Moten says,
When I think about the way we use the term ‘study,’ I think we are committed to the idea that study is what you do with other people, working, dancing, suffering, some irreducible convergence of all three, held under the name of speculative practice.
I have the words ‘study forever’ tattooed on my body for a reason.
I’m also reminded of the title of a painting by Egon Schiele:
At their best, reading groups are art and loved ones. Reading groups comprise a form of sociality that, for me, make up a life that is worth dying for.
I think I might start another one.