If one of your New Year's Resolutions was to develop a hobby, read more, spend more time on self-care, or meet new people (or you simply love to read), then consider attending a meeting with the Bucks Book Discussion Group. The gatherings take place from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month during the academic year at the college’s Newtown campus. They are free, informal, and open to the public.
Michael Hennessey, the literature professor who convenes the meetings, says group members come from a variety of backgrounds, but share a love of reading, and new readers are always welcome.
“The group has many deep thinkers interested in sustained inquiry about the state of humanity, and in learning about other cultures and how different people think,” said Hennessey, who has led the group discussions for more than two decades. “We welcome newcomers because we are interested in new perspectives. You can come and just listen if you want just to get a taste of the conversation.”
The first title for the new year is “Half-Witch” by John Schoffstall, which was chosen by NPR as one of the best books of 2018. The meeting on Thursday, January 9 is special because the author will be joining the group to discuss his novel. “We are honored that the author will be joining us on this occasion,” noted Hennessey.
The fantasy novel follows young Lizbet Lenz, who is forced on a perilous journey to free her father from a dungeon where he was imprisoned by an evil tyrant. She seeks help from an unpleasant witch girl, Strix. As they journey through the mountains, on the run from goblins, powerful witches, and human criminals, Lizbet discovers, to her horror, that Strix’s magic is turning Lizbet into a witch, too.
The next title on the table is “Stoner” by John Williams on February 13. The 1965 novel is about William Stoner, who was sent by his hard-scrabble farmer father to the University of Missouri to study agriculture, but is sidetracked by an obsessive love of literature and stimulated by a curmudgeonly old professor, Archer Sloane. Sloane helps Stoner avoid service in WWI, and Stoner eventually becomes an assistant professor. He then meets and marries a St. Louis beauty, Edith, who quickly subjugates her contemplative, passive husband.
Up next for discussion is “Trust Exercise” by Susan Choi, winner of the 2019 National Book Award for Fiction, on March 12. What begins as the story of obsessive first love between drama students at a competitive performing arts high school in the early 1980s twists into something much darker in Choi's singular new novel: an effective interrogation of memory, and the impossible gulf between accuracy and the stories we tell.
Next, the group will discuss “Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project” by Jack Mayer on April 9.The book is based on the true story of Irena Sendler, a Holocaust hero, and the Kansas teens who recently discovered her story. Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker, organized a rescue network to save 2,500 Jewish children from certain death in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. After the war, her heroism, like that of many others, was suppressed by communist Poland and remained virtually unknown for 60 years. Then, three high school girls from southeast Kansas stumbled upon a reference to Sendler's rescues, which they fashioned into a history project, a play they called “Life in a Jar.”
For the Thursday, May 14 meeting, the group takes on “The Topeka School” by Ben Lerner, named a Top 10 Book of the Year by the New York Times, Time, GQ, Vulture, and Washington Post. Adam Gordon is a senior at Topeka High School, class of ’97. His mother, Jane, is a famous feminist author; his father, Jonathan, is an expert at getting “lost boys” to open up. Adam is one of the cool kids, and one of the seniors who bring the loner Darren Eberheart―who is, unbeknownst to Adam, his father’s patient―into the social scene, to disastrous effect.
Finally, the Book Discussion Group concludes the semester on Thursday, June 11, by delving into “Winter is Coming: Why Vladmir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped” by Garry Kasparov. In this urgent book, Kasparov shows that the collapse of the Soviet Union was not an endpoint, only a change of seasons, as the Cold War melted into a new spring. But now, after years of complacency and poor judgment, winter is once again upon us.
At the June 11 meeting, attendees will also suggest, discuss, debate and choose titles for the September to December fall meeting schedule.
About the Bucks County Community College Book Discussion Group
Founded in 1988, the Bucks County Community College Book Discussion Group meets from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month from September to June in room 114 of the Rollins Center. The campus is located at 275 Swamp Road, Newtown, Pa., 18940. For snow closing information, call 215-968‑8000 or visit www.bucks.edu. For more information, contact Michael Hennessey at 215-968-8164 or [email protected]