A group of five Severna Park High School rising juniors have taken to Zoom to discuss their love of books from a safe social distance.
Augustus Bachmann started the club in late March when schools were starting to transition to online learning. He called three fellow SPHS students whom he thought would be interested in starting a book club: Henry Wright, Grady McConnell and Zach Canaday.
The fifth club member, Leslie Robinson, joined a short time later after a call from Grady.
Nobody in the group felt confident that distance learning would provide the same challenge or interaction provided in a classroom.
“We wanted to just have a way to stimulate ourselves while being able to talk with friends,” Grady said.
The club meets once a week, usually Friday afternoons. Members assign segments of the book they are reading to discuss during their sessions. They try to keep these sessions casual.
“We steered away from trying to do the school aspect of it, like an organized Socratic seminar,” Augustus said. “It was more laid back, leisurely. Just a talk with friends.”
The group decides democratically what to read.
“We all chose two or three that we thought would be interesting to read [and] we could talk about, and then we would vote on them,” Zach said. “We all got a say.”
The teens generally select classic literature that they have not read before or don’t feel that they would be able to enjoy as much in a school setting.
They started by reading “The Odyssey,” which they had never read in school. Next was Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
“We try to switch it up so we aren’t reading the same sort of stuff,” Zach said.
Holding virtual club meetings had its challenges.
“When we started on Zoom, the calls were limited to an hour long,” Grady said. “So we’d often find ourselves having to end the call, create a new one, and then all get back and somehow get back on the same train of thought.”
Pandemic-related closures have also caused problems. Unable to get books from libraries and bookstores, the group has resorted to buying books online, including e-books. Reading on tablets and phones proved to be neither convenient nor helpful for some.
“It’s very hard to focus online,” Grady said.
Despite the problems, the group feels like the experience is better than reading for school in some ways.
“Rather than having it feel like it’s work, we can truly do it for pleasure, which helps us remember,” Grady said. “I’ve read good books in school that I don’t remember being enjoyable just because of how much work we had to have with it. So when we’re given the chance to read it through just for pleasure, it’s a more memorable experience.”
With restrictions being lifted, group members have begun meeting outside in person.
“We found ourselves going to Annapolis a lot,” Henry said. “It’s a good way to get some exercise. We just bike on the trail. Meet at St. John’s. Go down to downtown Annapolis.”
Since school let out, the group looks forward to reading books at a faster pace, with more time to get segments done. The students also look forward to meeting after the pandemic is over, in locations better suited to book discussions.
“When the pandemic ends, we’re hoping to meet up at coffee shops or in the library where we can have a nice, cool environment, where we can be surrounded by a sense of calm, rather than being on a Zoom call and having all of our family members yelling in the background,” Grady said.