Book Clubs in AP English: Re-thinking Authenticity

Tonight we discussed Station Eleven, a National Book Award Finalist, wherein humanity is just about destroyed by a killer flu, and a troupe of Shakespearean actors who call themselves the Symphony travel the countryside performing for various survivors in various small towns.

I loved it in an English-teacher kind of way. The prose is lovely, and I found beautiful passages with beautiful sentences, like this one:

This is my soul and the world unwinding, this is my heart in the still winter air (194).

And this: Hell is the absence of the people you long for (144); followed by this a few pages over: If hell is other people, what is a world with almost no people in it? (148).

I am certainly not an end-of-the-world kind of book lover, but I did love this book.

Tess did. And Amber did. (She even wrote about it here because she wanted to.)

But not everyone in our book club did.

Heather and Alli read a few pages and called it a pass. “I couldn’t get into it,” one of them said. Whitney listened to the audio and said, “I respected it but didn’t love it.” At least she powered through.

Two members of our group were not there. No word on if they liked the book or not. I figure if they had loved it, they would have at sent that word.

So I come home this evening thinking about the book clubs I ask my students to participate four times a year. I want them to enjoy the books they read, but I also want them to be able to enjoy the art of conversation. More than anything, that is what our gathering was tonight. Five educators, sharing a meal, and talking about a book. No cell phones (until we looked up our next read). True face-to-face time.

No one will ask any of us to write an essay, craft a project, complete a timed writing, present to the class.

I’m glad about that.

I need to re-think how I hold my students accountable about their reading. Or not.

It’s not like Heather and Alli are getting a grade, and they didn’t read.


©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

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6 thoughts on “Book Clubs in AP English: Re-thinking Authenticity

  1. […] We read, discuss, and work with other titles in book clubs to understand and be able to analyze the scope of a novel. (I facilitated #APLangchat on the topic of book clubs. Here’s the planning for that and the Storify. And I wrote about little about my class book clubs here and here.) […]


  2. Erika B. February 21, 2015 at 11:21 am Reply

    I happen to be almost done with my Writer’s Notebook and shifting to my new/next one. However, before I shelf this one I relished in a “once over” to see what I had to say about my world throughout this last year.

    In doing so I came across a comment a student made: I have to finish this book because I started it.

    Ouch! That balance between getting students to start their reading journey yet building their confidence in knowing what speaks to their reading soul at that very time is tricky, tricky business.

    So, a post-it has found its way onto the page to remind me to have that conversation with specific students on Monday…as we return from a nine day February break. We must trust ourselves in knowing what we need as readers; exposure and risk are essential yet engagement is what fuels the journey.

    Thank you, ladies for sharing your experiences with your book club (I wish I was a Texan too…Brooklyn is a bit of a commute!) because it has me thinking…



    • Amy February 23, 2015 at 12:24 pm Reply

      I need to remember this more often: “We must trust ourselves in knowing what we need as readers; exposure and risk are essential yet engagement is what fuels the journey.” Thanks, E!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Whitney Kelley February 20, 2015 at 9:26 am Reply

    Yes, I’m the Whitney who respected rather than loved the book! I do want to say, though, that I was pulled in and such a fan of the writing that it was a pleasure to read/listen even though it wasn’t my usual genre. I reviewed it on GoodReads and gave it 4 stars (I think), because it was such a powerful piece – the writing, the character development, the thoughtfulness. What I love about my relationship with this book is that it is a great reminder that just because I don’t salivate over a book doesn’t mean that it isn’t of literary merit. As readers, we’re not going to LOVE every single book. I could appreciate the prose, the craft, the successful storytelling of this title without listing it among my faves.

    I wanted to continue reading/listening because of the beauty of it. It was like a pleasant blind date that I walked away from thinking I had a good time, but nothing serious will come from this. I’m so thankful that I plunged in even though Sci-Fi/Dystopian isn’t “my thing.” I was richly rewarded with the writing. AND, I was able to connect with my friends who DID love it and could appreciate it through their eyes and love it on their behalf.


    • Amy February 20, 2015 at 12:43 pm Reply

      Thanks for expounding on your experience with Station Eleven, Whitney. I know I’ve told you how I’ve ‘read’ a lot of audio books lately: my running is better with a narrator reading me a book than with music. I really liked this book club choice. As a matter a fact, I had a young man ask me in first period for a book recommendation. He said he never likes anything he chooses for himself, but he’s read everything I’ve recommended for him. He just finished The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, which was his last book club choice for class.

      I went to my shelf, and I gave him a short stack, talking a bit about each book (always positively even when I don’t like it): Owen Meaney, which I hated but many love, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which I loved but thought was slow, Peace Like a River, which I loved but made me sad, and Station Eleven, which I couldn’t wait to get in a young reader’s hands.

      Chris noticed the dogeared pages and my scribblings, and I read him that one little paragraph at the end of page 15. Of course, he checked out this book. Yay!


  4. shanakarnes February 20, 2015 at 6:23 am Reply

    As you know, the word at the center of my curriculum this year is AUTHENTICITY. During book clubs, I tell the students…it’s OKAY if you don’t finish the book on time, as long as you try–that’s what the real readers in my book club did when we all tried to read The Goldfinch. I also tell them…the purpose of reading this book (which you chose) with your friends (in groups you chose) is ENJOYMENT. The activities we do in class, the minilessons that you replicate, the Goodreads posts you write…are just to help you think more deeply about different parts of the book…they are not a purpose for reading. The purpose is enjoyment.

    I want them to love the experience of reading in a group and the conversation that comes from that. Thanks for helping me reflect on how I assess that goal. I’ll think more on this and write you a response in the form of a blog post! 🙂


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