When you first think about reading a book, it seems like a solitary affair. I picture myself curled up by a window, reading by natural light and entering a new little world—alone. Sometimes I picture myself in a coffee shop, surrounded by others and the buzz of conversation, but still on my own literary journey.
Once I finish a book though, I crave to talk to someone about it—to discuss the characters, the themes, the way the words are crafted, and so much more.
One Book, One Philadelphia is designed to meet just this need, bringing people together over a shared reading experience. I joined a book club at Temple University to discuss Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn, this year’s featured One Book selection. The last time I really sat down with a group of people and peeled away the layers of a book was in college in an academic setting.
And this might sound incredibly nerdy, but I honestly forgot how fun it is to be surrounded by others who are just as excited about a book as I am.
When reading a story, an individual will have his or her own perspective of what transpires. With Another Brooklyn, I found that to be especially true because of, to quote one of the women at the book club, all of the "dangly bits" that Woodson leaves hanging by the end of the novel.
Woodson’s novel has a fogginess to it that mirrors the way humans recall memories. August, an adult, is describing memories from when she was a young girl and giving us details that only she remembers. At the book discussion, we debated some of these details and the reasoning behind why the characters act as they do.
Why couldn’t August speak to Sylvia when they ran into each other? Was August’s mother dead when she, her father, and brother moved away? Did she die after they moved away? Why didn’t anyone go to Gigi’s performance? How did her father cope with the loss of his wife and his return to Brooklyn? Why couldn’t the four girls remain bonded as sisters? Why did their friendship fall apart?
Did August ever truly learn how to process the losses she experienced, or will she always be haunted by her past?
We all had our own answers, and many of them differed. Some of us wished Woodson had written more, others of us liked the way she left things unraveled and unknown. Each of us had our own experience with Another Brooklyn, and we shared our personal takeaways with each other.
Perhaps the initial act of reading a book is solitary, but stories are meant to be shared. A book itself then turns into memory, a shared recollection that becomes open for discussion and connection that creates a bond between readers.