Reading is often a lone-person hobby. Research often involves reading itself, so the last thing you want to do in your spare time is read even more. But it’s also not exactly the best way to make friends. Except when coupled with clubs. Manpreet Kaur shares her experiences of attending various reading clubs and poetry discussion sessions over the past year and how she found it.
Reading has been a hobby since childhood. I went from reading Disney princesses’ stories to loving Jeffery Deaver’s thrillers during my teenage years. I never quite developed the Harry Potter craze but the summer of 2016, I became a die-hard Jane Austen fan. Ever since I’ve loved reading classic novels, and slowly during my university years, as I engaged more with the political landscape and conversations, I started reading non-fiction as well. So I guess it is safe to say that I have quite a varied taste in the books that I read. I’ve read heart-warming books (like My Kind of Happy, and Captain Tom’s Life Lessons), ones that give butterflies (like Pride and Prejudice) and ones that are just electrifying (like Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls).
As I haven’t been a Harry Potter or Game of Thrones fan, I rarely found people to discuss my favourite books with. This all changed last summer when I came across the Feminist reading group organised by members of the English department. I decided to go to their sessions (on Teams) and became quite a regular. It was such a positive and uplifting environment bonding with other people and discussing thoughts and opinions. Having done the reading beforehand, everyone has a similar level of understanding and then we bring along our own insight and experiences to the sessions and learn and discuss and grow.
Shortly after, the chemistry department organised a Diversity Book Club and I have been absolutely loving it. We’ve discussed themes of race, gender, sexuality and I hope there is a lot more to come. Being on several book clubs does not only help my yearly reading goal but also is a great way to meet new people and make friends. The best part about book clubs is that the conversation is never shallow. Small talk is not really my thing, so book clubs for me are like organised conversations. There is a theme that I know before I join the meeting. There is substance, I know I will get food for thought, learn new perspectives and might even find my own views challenged.
But it is not just the book clubs. Recently I have been attending poetry discussion sessions as well. The Global South Initiative has been an exciting way to learn about poetry from different cultures of the Global South and discuss it with other postgrads and academics. The thing with a poem is that it always says more than the words in it, and it always says what otherwise one might only have felt but not known how to express. I have enjoyed reading and writing poetry for a long time because I knew it helps me to understand myself, but poetry discussion sessions have shown to me how poetry can help us better understand each other. The discussions over a couplet or a stanza can be so much more than about just the words. It is about exploring our personal identities and our sense of self, and bonding with others.
I’ve enjoyed them so much that I’ve gone from attending book clubs to taking part in organising them. Within my research group, we now have weekly seminars where we read a book chapter or a paper beforehand and discuss it. Mainly, this is to learn the theory behind the research we do, but these peer discussions help us learn about each other’s research as well. It ensures our fundamental understanding of the work we do is solid and up to speed.
I also recently organised and chaired a poetry discussion session with the Network for Ethnic Minority Postgraduates (NEMP) where we read and discussed a couple of poems on the theme of race and justice.
So whether you want to learn about a particular topic with other people, need some motivation to read a bit more in life, or just want to meet people and make friends, reading clubs can help you out!
Have you ever taken part in a book or poetry discussion? Are there any reading clubs you would like to attend, or perhaps even organise yourself? Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Manpreet Kaur is a first year PhD student in the Department of Chemistry. She has been at Warwick since 2016, and did her BSc and MRes here. Her research project focuses on the design of photoelectrocatalytic systems for the synthesis of nitrogen containing compounds. You can follow her on Twitter here and further details about her project and background can be found here.