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…

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.

A photo of a computer with a zoom call with Eliot, Amy who is taking the picture, Jon wearing a cap, Lucy, me, Angus, and Becky. Behind the computer is a tree in a pot with fairy lights on it.
Book club via Zoom, April 2020. Image by Amy.

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…

We take turns meeting, usually monthly, at different people’s homes. It’s lovely and intimate.

A picture of a kitchen counter covered in party detritus: dirty dishes, 2 empty wine bottles, lager tins, a bottle of Roku gin, a plate with a sliver of cake on it, and a big empty tin of Perello olives
Aftermath of the last reading group at my flat, September 2023

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:

A photo of text ’For Art and For My Loved Ones I Will Gladly Endure to the End!
Photo of an exhibit label from an 2018 RA exhibition on Klimt and 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.