Book Clubs as Critical Literacy: Better than Reading

Basically, reading is a one way limited interaction from the author to the reader. The author can’t tailor the interaction to the reader providing more background knowledge if the reader needs more or adjusting the language to the readers age.

The reader can’t ask questions of the author or clarify certain ideas that are unclear to the reader. They can’t expand, refute, or transform the ideas with the author. They can’t point out other perspectives or identify the author’s biases to the author or explain who is left out. As readers we can only share what we read with others and if we are lucky enough, those others have also read that text and the dialogue can go deeper.

Book clubs are a great way for a reader to express and develop their ideas on the topic of a book. As the reader reads the text in anticipation of a book club meeting, they have a purpose to develop their thinking not only about the quality of the literature (in narrative that is plot, characters, setting, theme, point of view), but also on the ‘work’ that the author does in society by favoring the value of certain ideas, feelings, and actions and marginalizing others. These are the author’s biases. The book club gives purpose to analysis and so the reader is motivated to develop those thoughts.

So the reader prepares with notes or just thoughts about what they will say about the book. Sometimes the preparation is as simple as stating that the book club member likes or doesn’t like the book. Other times, the book club member writes extensive notes and writes a review for Goodreads or Amazon. In my experience, writing something down forces me to organize and develop my thoughts beyond the simplistic ideas that I can hold in my head at any one time.

Book clubs develop into critical literacy communities when people from different backgrounds, different identities, and different values share and listen to each other dialoguing and developing a much more complex understanding of a text than they could by themselves.

So it’s really the event that pushes a person to develop their thoughts before the book talk. And it’s the listening to other points of view from the other members, that makes all the members better critical literacy thinkers. Finally, as a result of the complexity of our thinking, our responses and actions for justice and equity are of much better quality.

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