The English Literature Working Group
Who we are
As a result of an appeal to the participants of the reading groups three new members have joined the group, so luckily we are "fully staffed" again. These are the members from left to right: Henny de Boer - Hans van der Weiden - Cees van den Akker - Leo Stolk - Christa de Jager - Els de Wit. Elise Kleuskens was absent.
How we work
In the period September to November, we meet once or twice to discuss and decide on plans for the coming season. Each member of the group brings a list of novels they have read and would like to propose. With different backgrounds and tastes, these lists comprise a wide range of subject matter, style and story. A potential longlist of books suitable for reading groups is put together, a mixture of new and older publications. We discuss these books and all books chosen for the longlist are then read by at least two or three members of the working group.
Then we meet again in February to select 10 to 15 books from the longlist. When we make this final selection, the most important criteria is whether they are suitable to be discussed by members of a reading group.
We try to offer a wide variety of books:
- authors from various English-speaking countries;
- different periods, subjects and settings;
- different genres: we have chosen not only novels, but also novellas, collections of short stories, thrillers and an epistolary novel, for example.
Scrooge in the Library in Amersfoort
It is that time of the year: the jolly season, the season of holly and ivy. A season to open our hearts to one another.
It was in that mood that members of the English workgroup and members of English Senia reading groups met at the magnificent Amersfoort library on Sunday December 17th, to be once more regaled on a lively rendering of events from Charles Dickens' famous tale: A Christmas Carol, by Mr Wim Tigges who was able to fill in all the parts from Scrooge, via the ghosts to the glorious ending in which, to our mutual relief, Tiny Tim once more does not die.
Marlowe was dead, dead as a doornail, but our English reading groups are alive and kicking........and thriving.
Cees van den Akker
Interesting essay about the role of reading communities
Esmé van den Boom is the student who wrote the reader’s guide for Possession last year. Recently she has written an essay on “The role of reading communities in the canonization of authors of colour: a case study of Senia’s English reading groups” for the master course on Book History (Master Writing, Editing and Mediating).
The number of racially diverse books on the list of titles and the way they were selected is investigated in this essay. One of the conclusions of Esmé's research is “that Senia’s choice of titles leaves room for improvement concerning diversity.”
Although the English Workgroup undertakes to offer a variety of books, taking into account a.o. countries of origin, gender, year of publications etc., the most important – yet subjective - criterium is that the books should be first-rate and suitable for discussion in the reading groups.
Cooperation with Rijksuniversiteit Groningen
On the university website you can read (in Dutch) more about the cooperation between Senia and the university. Here you can also find an interesting research dissertation on ‘Communication in English Reading Groups’.
If you have any questions or comments on the reader's guides, please send a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Something about the Senia reading group Wageningen English 1
The Senia reading group Wageningen English 1 has existed for three years now. We started off with only three members but this proved not to be a problem. Our group grew very fast and within a few months we had eight participants, which we consider to be the maximum. Our meetings take place on Friday afternoons from two until four o’clock. Most of the time we gather round the table at each group member’s home alternately. The library often had no room for us and this method intensifies our mutual ties in addition.
Tea and biscuits are our starting point, just like speaking English right from the beginning, otherwise the transition from Dutch feels quite artificial. All group members, all female, first give their ratings of the novel in the form of marks from 0-10 with an explanation consisting of no more than three sentences. The questions in the reading guides provide frameworks for discussions, but if it seems appropriate we readily diverge from them. Our chairperson of the day sees to it that we don’t wander off too far and that we return to the original subject in time. At the end of the meeting we often notice that we raise our initial marks thanks to the insights gained during discussions.
So far Deaf Sentence by David Lodge, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, Lila by Marilynne Robinson, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell and The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber have been our favourites, as they gave rise to quite lively discussions. Novels with an interesting story are popular with us. Our approach to novels is quite thorough. Some of us like to take our personal experiences into account, but this doesn’t hold for everybody. This also depends on the novel, of course.
Up till now we haven’t done any other activities together, but when this question arose we actually warmed to the idea. So, as an end-of-term party we are now planning to go to an establishment in June where people from Syria serve a meal.
Characteristic of our group is the fact that we always speak English, deal with the novels quite extensively, only consist of women, all have tea without sugar and that from now on we will round off the season by sharing a meal together.
We are grateful to Senia for their praiseworthy initiative, beautiful and useful reading guides and their flexible cooperation. We enjoy many pleasant hours thanks to Senia.
About students writing the guides
Esmé van den Boom - Possession
I'm a 23-year-old student of (English) literature who can't keep herself from reading in the dead of night, ever since her mother read her Harry Potter and she would sneak out of bed to secretly read the next chapter. Although I started my studies with a bachelor in Dutch literature, it has always been the more international scope of Anglo-American literature that attracted me. I took some extra courses in the English department and fell in love with just about anything my lecturers would put on the syllabus - and thus a bachelor in English Literature followed.
Anne Kooistra - Nutshell
Ever since I was a little girl, I have always loved to read. I was a frequent visitor of the local library, and reread some of my favourite books over and over again. When the time came to choose what I wanted to study at university, I just knew it had to be something related to literature. After going back and forth between Dutch and English for some time, I eventually chose English, since the literature was more appealing to me, and the language oh so beautiful. Not once did I regret that decision!
Karin Renkema - The Little Red Chairs
I have always had a fascination for literature, and for the English language in particular. My time as a child was spent not only reading a lot of English books, but also watching English and American television series and films, so my interaction with the English language started early. The choice to study English was therefore not a difficult one. It was the perfect opportunity to transform my passion into a field of study.