By Sarina D. ’19
On Wednesday mornings as students begin to trickle into the halls of the Crystal mansion and uplands building, Ms. Garman sits in the lounge of the library amongst an assortment of bagels and cream cheese. She waits as students ranging from freshman to seniors stream through the heavy brown door of the library and take a seat on the plush couches, eager to discuss a good book, or just to listen.
This is book club. Every month, Crystal students vote on a new book to read and discuss based on a survey Ms. Garman provides of her top picks of the month. She then gets free copies for students to check out, and hosts a meeting at an 8:30 am on late starts where students can come informally discuss the book and what they liked/didn’t like about it.
Book club is a new tradition at Crystal that came with Ms. Garman. In 2015, when Ms. Garman started working at Crystal and recognized that we didn’t have a book club, she knew that it was time to start one. “It was such an incredible way for me to connect with students at my previous school,” she told us. “And I knew it would be a nice way to get to know students at Crystal, hear what sorts of books they to read outside of the curriculum, and begin to get my finger on the pulse of what is most interesting to the students here!”
Ms. Garman’s love of book clubs spans back to her experience at the Friends School of Baltimore, where she had a dedicated group of students who loved to read books outside of school and found empowerment in organizing events to bond with students from multiple grades. The students even helped Ms. Garman organize some author visits, and Ms. Garman felt that the network was an empowering experience for both the students in the club and for the school, who wanted to support and promote their intellectual curiosity.
Now, the tradition has been cemented into the fabric of the Crystal community, as students from across grades and with different interests come to enjoy bagels and discussion each month. “I hope that students view Book Club as a fun, casual, and safe space where they can speak freely about topics that matter to them,” Ms. Garman told us. I am less concerned with students’ ability to finish an entire book in a given month, (even in Faculty Book Club (yes, there is one!) and much more interested in the discussions that come out surrounding the themes in the books that we’ve read.” And so far, book club has engendered several riveting discussions. Thi Bui’s graphic novel The Way We Were led to discussion about immigration and personal connections to family stories of emigrating from another country. Michelle Obama’s memoir led to discussions about being a woman in the workforce, and the invisibility of service workers who dedicate their lives to working for the First Family. And John Green’s most recent novel led to a more personal discussions about the experiences we have had with depression and anxiety. But the topics aren’t always this heavy. Sometimes, the group of students reads lighthearted and even fantastical books. Most recently, they read a book about fake desert towns in the American Southwest where ghosts, angels, aliens, and government conspiracies are commonplace parts of everyday life. Ms. Garman expressed her love of watching students eyes light up when they talk about a book, and getting to know each student just a little bit more throughout the discussion.
But these discussions aren’t the only bonus of book club. Unlike other clubs, book club is informal and low commitment. Students self-select to come based on business and interest in the book that month. Ms. Garman’s goal is just to “foster and continue a lifelong love of reading, not just for English class, but for pleasure,” because she knows that there are so many benefits to it. In fact, reading for pleasure outside of school has a significant impact on people’s educational attainment and social mobility because it actually “increases cognitive progress over time”.
“I know it is in a small way, but my hope is that by providing a space and encouraging students to join Book Club, I am reminding them of, not just the importance of reading for pleasure, but helping them to fall in love with books in ways that foster a lifelong devotion to reading,” Ms. Garman told Gryphon Gazette. “Also, to remind them, that even though it doesn’t always feel like it, we really all CAN make time. Just ask Barack Obama – who was a voracious reader even in the midst of his presidency – or, perhaps more accessible – our Head of School, Mr. Miller, who reads at least a book a week!”