Book Conversations: An Emma Tradition

Every autumn at the beginning of the school year, members of the senior class conduct book conversations. These are small group sessions that seniors often look forward to leading since they first stepped on campus in an earlier grade. The seniors choose the books, it is always exciting to see what has been selected. Director of Library Resources and Research Caroline Buinicky says her favorite part of the annual book talks is “seeing which books the students suggest and what an amazing range of topics!

Ms. Buinicky also follows up with the seniors after the talks have occurred with a quick debrief for the experience. Here are some of the thoughts about the book talk experience shared from  Natasha W.,  Xiaodan H., Fiona M., Katie V., Lia R., Ella B., Grace W., Jenna D., Hajira H., all members of the Class of 2021:

Tell us why you decided to sign up to lead a book talk. 
I decided to sign up to lead a book talk because I really like Dostoevsky as an author and wish to share his works with other folks who might be interested. I personally really enjoy Russian literature and I barely see any book [groups] read books written by Russian authors, so I thought it would be interesting if I led one.

I really enjoyed the book I was discussing, and was excited about the possibility of talking about it with a group of other students!

I wanted to share one of my favorite books with the Emma community and be able to welcome new (and returning) students to the community (or back to the community) I am someone who really enjoys reading and I always have loved being a part of the book talks at Emma so I knew I wanted to try and run one!

I wanted the senior experience of welcoming ninth graders and having meaningful conversations with them. I remember how important the book talk was to me at the start of high school and wanted to do whatever I could to make it positive for them.

How did you choose your book? 
I chose my book by looking at books on my "Books I want to read list," and I picked one that I thought had many layers and themes that could be discussed with a group of people.

I was looking through works of Dostoevsky and I decided to pick a relatively short book (because summer reading is supposed to be fun and enjoyable rather than stressful) that doesn't interfere with its complexity. The Gambler was a thin book but full of complex characters and themes (that I would say are pretty relatable in a way)

I chose Five Feet Apart because I thought it would be interesting to discuss connections between themes explored in the book and our current socially-distanced world.

Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of my favorite books and I feel like it is one of the only coming of age books that really does it right. I just think it’s an important book for teenagers to read because of how successfully it explores such important themes such as mental health and sexual assault.

This has always been one of my favorites because it incorporates relevant societal themes into a science-fiction plot. I don't always find sci-fi that enjoyable, but this one is extremely relatable and well thought out.

I thought the title was interesting, and I just started reading this book!
Are there things that we could have done to better help you prepare?
I looked at the background of the author and 19th century Europe (to analyze point of view) and made a word doc that detailed the flow and structure of the book talk

I don’t think so, but everyone approaches this a different way so that could be a different answer for different people

No, I liked the freedom we had to take it wherever we envisioned. You were helpful in structuring our summers around planning.

How did your book talk go?
It was absolutely wonderful! I think we had an amazing discussion and we really dived in deep into the different themes and storylines. Everyone contributed, and I felt like everyone was heard. It was wonderful seeing everyone's faces and really just catching up and sharing our thoughts on a book that meant so much to me.

Overall, it went well! The biggest challenge I encountered was getting people to be willing to participate (especially since my group was mostly new freshmen).

It went really well, we had nice conversations and talked about a lot of different aspects of the book.
It went very well! Everybody who showed up seemed comfortable and willing to share, so it was pretty smooth.

It went well! I got a lot more responses to questions than I expected, almost everyone participated, and the inevitable silences weren’t too uncomfortable!

Even though a lot of people didn’t come, it made the four people who came to share more ideas! It went great in general!

Were there things that surprised you? This could be an awesome surprise or a not so awesome one.
It surprised me how willing to talk everyone was. I was kind of nervous going into it, as I was scared that there would be awkward silences throughout, but everyone was enthusiastic and shared!

I was surprised that only four people came to my book talk. However, I was also surprised that they all had interpretations that I never thought of, which was very interesting.

One positive thing I was surprised by was how one idea a student would share in response to a question/ prompt would easily lead into another related discussion about the book!

It was kind of stressful being a leader and trying to gauge whether or not I’m talking too much whilst trying to fill in the awkward gaps of silence.

I was surprised that the loose agenda I had was also the way the discussion went, with very little prompting from me.

One question didn’t get too many answers but one of the participants’ answers made me think of a new, related question. That question worked a lot better and I got a lot more responses!

I love how people starting sharing all the things that they were expected from the society and how relatable all the other girls felt!

If you are a member of the Emma community, you may be thinking that those book talks were pretty fun and would like to have more book conversations. You are in luck. A new series of Emma Reads book clubs will start soon. The book clubs will be a little different from last year. Each leader will decide how they want to run their club based on participant interest and what works best for their books. As Sophia A. ‘21 shared during Morning Reports, throughout the duration of these clubs, there will be a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous activities. The book clubs are a great way to connect with people in the community and offer a space to talk about the books and engage with the subject matter.  Each club will have weekly virtual activities.

We will be reading the following books. 
    • Just one of the senior book talk selections

    • Another senior book talk selection

    • An upcoming book club choice

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