FAQs about the Shanghai Book Club

January 3, 2021 Off By ShanghaiWriting

After launching its book club, there have been a lot of changes and discussions, so I had a conversation with Rivkah Greig, the head of the workshop’s book club.

So what’s the new format for book club?

Basically, there will be shorter readings, and we will do all of those readings during the meeting. This is a more digestible arrangement, which will help keep the text fresh in our minds when we discuss. Because the book club alternates between Shakespeare plays and short stories, I’ve shortened the plays to just passages, and we will continue reading short stories.

Why the change?

We are all busy these days! Plus, we meet Monday evenings; it’s tough to jump right into the week and then to have the added pressure of reading ahead of time for a book-club. Nothing about that sounds the least bit enjoyable! And one of my goals for this book club is to make literature accessible to everyone. In order to do that, literature and reading can’t be a chore.

What excites you most about this new format?

It’s very exciting, because everyone is coming into the meeting on a leveled playing field: Because there’s an understanding that we have not read the text or the excerpts ahead of time, we don’t quite know what to expect from the text. Even if you’ve read the text ahead of time, there may be something you didn’t pick up before. We are all discovering the text together and sharing that at the same time. That’s very special and generates some great discussion.

What are some stories that you are looking at doing in the future?

Someone recently recommended authors like Eileen Chang and Lu Xun, so their works are definitely on my list. I like touching on classics as well as contemporary literature, so recently I’ve been digging back into the likes of Lydia Davis, Roxane Gay, as well as Anton Chekhov and O. Henry. This coming week we are reading Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, which I’m very excited about. I like to keep the stories related to whatever Shakespeare play we read next. However, I want to be sensitive to the group and what may interest them. I’m always open to recommendations and new ideas.

Who do you think would be interested in this book club?

In order to answer this question, it’s important to state the point of reading and discussing literature: the point of book club is to generate awareness and appreciation for literature. Literature is an integral part of what makes us human. Anyone who is interested in that question (what makes us human?) would be interested in book club. That’s one reason why I use Shakespeare as a foundational text for book club: he is practically inescapable, especially within Western literature. Not only is Shakespeare still widely read and studied, but you can see how he is echoed even in literature today. And when we read Shakespeare, his characters and themes are still shockingly relevant and resonates on a very profound level.

Where and how often does this new book club meet?

We meet at Garden Books on Changle Rd. It’s a great bookstore and coffee shop. We meet every other Monday, so twice a month. We meet in the evenings at 7:00 PM.

How can I join the book club?

You can scan the QR code or add me (Rivkah) over WeChat (rivkahgreig), and you’ll be added to the group. As for attending the meeting, you just show up. It’s as simple as that.

Do I need to make a reservation in advance?

Oh gracious, no! This is a very relaxed environment.

Why did you decide to start a reading group?

I love literature, and I love talking about it with everyone and anyone—even if they don’t like what they’ve read! It’s very special to be a part of a group that is trying to understand what is being written or to even sit in reflection of a beautiful passage with others. Reading literature should be a shared activity, because the reader and the author converse. And that conversation is not only held between an author and one reader—it’s held amongst many readers, too. So, I think it’s important to talk to each other about this very special conversation that the reader and the author are having. I also don’t think literature should be a luxury: it’s absolutely necessary. Why do we continue to return to Shakespeare? It’s not simply because we enjoy Shakespeare: Shakespeare and literature hold some necessary truths about ourselves.