Challenges in Running a Small Reading Group

by tigermanifesto


Before late this year, all of my small reading groups had tottered over for one reason or another. When saddled with a full work and study schedule, it can be difficult for one person to maintain a reading discipline unless they are already used to reading for fun. Coordinating reading with more than one person, even just one more, magnifies the difficulty. Even if both people live in the same house and are in near-constant communication, the same basic set of problems remains:

  1. What to read:Deciding on a list of books that satisfies every group member is the first major obstacle to clear. In my case, I took charge of this process because I was the most politically experienced and wanted to help the rest of the group catch up. I consulted everyone for input, but I had final veto over the list. Generally, in each of the failed reading groups, we simply set a weekly meeting time and agreed to discuss our experiences with the book section or article assigned. However, it became obvious that people’s interest wandered between meetings because they were more interested in other books or felt they couldn’t contribute much to a discussion of what was assigned.
  2. Meeting Times: Fairly obvious issues that most of you will be familiar with.
  3. Discussion Structure: One of the most persistent problems I encountered was the problem of discussion structure. This also connects to problem 1 because some of our problems stemmed directly from the difficulty of sustaining interest in a single book over a medium period. At first, we tried to discuss one book that we had all read, sometimes basing our conversations on a set of pre-written study questions. After awhile, however, we began to read books separately and report our impressions and summarize the contents of our personal reading. After a failed attempt to explain the intricacies of Anti-Oedipus to a bewildered gathering of people who had never read Deleuze, we decided to abandon this structure and return to our simpler approach of co-reading the texts. This eventually worked once we figured out a solution to problem 1. That solution was simply yo dedicate more time for choosing a book that was both relevant and intriguing enough to keep the entire group riveted.

Our current attempt at a reading group is going swimmingly, focusing on the works of Louis Althusser, Lenin, and Robert Biel. Education, both of oneself and in a group context, is an essential part of becoming more politically effective and also forges stronger bonds between participants if the matter is handled effectively. The key is to maintain communication, find a book that everyone can understand and discuss, and to ensure that less advanced members can also contribute while learning from the rest of the group. It’s effective small-group pedagogy, at least as far as I’ve discovered.