Lehigh students and alumni engage in various book clubs throughout the semester. The book clubs discuss topics ranging from racism in France to gender violence. (Photo Illustration by Kate Morrell)

Lehigh book clubs span genres, generations

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Three book clubs, buried in Lehigh’s collection of more than 175 clubs and organizations, invite readers to discuss topics ranging from racism in France to gender violence.

As an English major and Break the Silence member, Tom Golden, ’19, said he wanted a space to combine his passions for reading and gender violence prevention. He collaborated with Brooke DeSipio, the BTS adviser and director of the Office of Gender Violence Education and Support, to create a book club that aligned with missions of BTS.

DeSipio recruited students and staff from various gender studies and violence groups for the club’s first meeting on Feb. 19.

The group discussed Vanessa Grigoriadis’ novel “Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus.” DeSipio said she selected the book after meeting Grigoriadis, who was enthusiastic about discussing her novel with Lehigh students.

DeSipio said discussion centered around gender violence and hookup culture at Lehigh. Both DeSipio and Golden believe it is important to prevent gender violence by talking about it and supporting BTS’ outreach and programming. DeSipio said Grigoriadis will participate in the dialogue at the next meeting.

“The end goal is to help us make the program better to fit the needs of the school,” DeSipio said.

Stefani Pila, ’17G, a graduate of the counseling psychology doctoral program, attended the meeting to hear students’ thoughts on hookup culture, which is the focus of her dissertation. Pila said she plans to use Grigoriadis’ book as a part of her literary review.

“I just hope to see what other people’s thoughts are and if they think this is applicable to Lehigh,” Pila said. 

In the Fall 2017 semester, Tanairy Ortiz, ’19, and masters in education candidate Malaïka Gutekunst founded the Francophone Cercle de Lecture book club as an outlet for francophones, or French speakers, to discuss French literature, film and music.

Ortiz, Gutekunst and the rest of the club discuss works in the context of prevalent global issues in which they are interested, such as feminism, globalization and environmental issues.

“I think it is pretty important we have that French-speaking aspect of it because we have a lot of French students, but we don’t have that space to actually practice French outside of our classrooms,” Ortiz said. “We think it’s kind of a neat idea to be able to speak about these issues as well as be able to practice our French and also get to know other people.”

Lehigh also has a program for alumni to discuss literature after they graduate. According to the Lehigh University Alumni Book Clubs’s website, the university partnered with PBC Guru to fund a virtual book club that allows graduates to connect with fellow Lehigh alumni, faculty, staff and friends to read about professional development, personal growth and social justice.

PBC Guru, a company that manages virtual book clubs, created a private online forum for participants to discuss the club’s selected novels.  

Lehigh parent Virna Jamshed, a member of the club, said the group is unlike any other book club in which she has taken part. So far participants have read “The True American: Murder and Mercy in Texas” by Anand Giridharadas. The novel was also one of the 2017 summer reading selections for incoming freshmen.

Jamshed said the club’s facilitator sets weekly chapter goals and uploads a question or topic for participants to discuss. She said although she appreciates the perspectives from across the Lehigh community, she has some hesitation about expressing her thoughts online.

“When you say something, you make some sort of a political statement on a forum, you kind of might get piled up upon with negative comments,” Jamshed said. “I’m shy about that so I haven’t actually posted anything.”

On the other hand, she said when a book club is held in person, there is a more direct dialogue that isn’t constantly recorded.

Despite her hesitation, Jamshed said she enjoys the lack of pressure to finish the book assignments, and she hopes for a wide array of books for discussion.

“The best kinds of book clubs are ones that force you to read different kind of books,” she said.

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