One Book, Many Conversations

The Libraries of Greater Kansas City have joined forces for a bi-state Big Read project. We’ve been reading Old School by Tobias Wolff since April 1 and I’ve been talking about it since March 31.

Old School by Tobias Wolff

Old School by Tobias Wolff

By talking I mean leading book groups. I led my eighth book group last week and I have to say, I am not tired of talking about Wolff’s first novel. Rather, I discovered something very interesting during these many discussions. Every book group has talked about something different and I have explored a new facet of this fictional school memoir after every meeting.

That’s no great leap to say that every book group is different. However, it’s one thing to believe it and another to see it. I have been amazed at the many topics that have drawn interest among all these readers.

I’ve been starting conversation by asking every group at which point in the novel did they realize they did not know the narrator’s name? And then I just sit back and the readers are off to the races. This topic easily segues into others.

One group discussed the idea of hidden identity and the school’s environment of creating false pretenses. A favorite topic is who committed the greater transgression, the narrator or Dean Makepeace. Conversation then moves towards personal responsibility, justice and redemption. As always, readers want to discuss how closely tied to the text the author is. I’ve been redirecting them to the text and saving any biographical information for the close of discussion.

Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff

The constant search for identity by the narrator and his schoolmates filled almost the entire hour for one group. Interesting, one reader pointed out that the women in the book all had a very clear sense of self, while all the men were in a quandary.

The overwhelming response to Old School has been ‘meh’. I have only run across about four readers who liked the book very much. None have hated it. What this tells me is Old School is an exceptional title for discussion. There are numerous topics to address and I have not had one unsuccessful discussion of this book yet. I still have about seven more to go and I wonder what those groups will discover that I haven’t. I can’t wait to hear it.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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