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Book club to promote casual reading at SMC

Elizabeth Voss | Thursday, February 16, 2006

With full courseloads, extracurricular activities and social lives, college students rarely find time for pleasure reading, but a group of Saint Mary’s women are inviting their peers to do just that.

Four Saint Mary’s students -with the help of women’s studies professor Astrid Henry – have created the SMC Book Club as part of an independent study class.

“We wanted to give students the opportunity to talk to fellow students about books in a casual way,” said senior Mary Nelson, one of the group’s founding members.

Books in the series are addressed for two weeks each, with discourse centering on experiences of young women in society involving relationships and sexuality. In the first week, members talk freely about the literature. In the second, members integrate articles or their own personal stories into the discussion.

The club will tackle four books throughout the semester, starting with the novel “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld – a book whose critical popularity has helped generate interest in the young club. Book club creator Megan Cassidy said the novel was selected because it is engaging, fun to read and prompts meaningful discussions related to college life.

The three other books the group plans to discuss are “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood, “A Return to Modesty”? by Wendy Shalit and “Female Chauvinist Pigs” by Ariel Levy.

Book club advisor Astrid Henry said the final two nonfiction books will spark deep conversation.

“[‘A Return to Modesty’] takes a look at how our culture has become over-sexualized and argues for a return to more traditional values, while [‘Female Chauvinist Pigs’] approaches [society] critically from a feminist perspective,” Henry said. “They are two very different ways of looking at it.”

Henry said one of the more difficult issues the new club will encounter is garnering student interest at the College. With jam-packed schedules, it is often tough for students to make time to read, she said.

“Saint Mary’s students work very hard and it’s not uncommon for them to take 18 credit hours or more,” she said. “Teachers expect a lot and it’s hard to keep on top of course work.”

But Nelson said the time commitment is worth it.

“A lot of people think it’s hard to find the time to read, but it’s possible if you make the time to read,” she said. “It’s hard in college because you feel so swamped by homework. We want people to take time to read for enjoyment and to think about things.”