I started a book club.

There are four members right now, and our focus is pretty narrow. We read only Newbery Award and Honor books. Basically (for those who aren’t familiar with the Newbery), we only read the best quality American juvenile literature ever written.

Sometimes I feel guilty for taking time in my schedule to do things like sit around a table, drinking hot chocolate and discussing children’s lit. I could be teaching, or organizing, or writing. I could be doing a hundred useful things.

But building community means having meaningful and distinctive conversations with people. And a lot of the time, meaningful conversations look an awful lot like fun.

Right now, we’re reading My Side of the Mountain, a 1960 Newbery Honor book by Jean Craighead George. George just passed away last month, and we wanted to honor her. And since all of us already read Julie of the Wolves in around 5th grade or so, this was the natural choice.

George’s books nearly always have one thing in common: a courageous youth who spends time in the wilderness, finding inner strength and a keen appreciation for the natural world in the process.

So I imagine we’ll spend some time during our next meeting discussing things like

  • moral and personal development
  • ecology
  • the personal effects of one’s environment
  • children and youth
  • nontraditional learning
  • self-reliance
  • good writing

Let’s face it, these are subjects I wish I could bring up with everyone. But I don’t get to walk up to people on street corners and ask, “Hey, what do you think about the psychological effects increasing urbanization might be having on children, and how can we remedy that on the local level?” But now I get to do it over cocoa. With books!

Just because it’s fun doesn’t mean it’s not  important. Bringing former strangers together for any positive reason, even if it’s just to play a game or share a meal, isn’t going to devolve into a life of meaningless chitchat. More likely is the possibility that the social bonds created will give my work of community building further reach and deeper meaning.

So what if it looks like fun?

That’s because it is. The world I want to live in contains people who talk about really good books.

I’m already one step closer.

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