Calling All Readers: Announcing the Open Ears, Open Minds Book Club

Storytime:

Late on the night of the 2016 election I was at work. I had been tracking the results live online all evening, and watching the numbers swing was… surreal at the very least, frightening at the very worst. Usually the library where I work is bustling with students, even late into the night. That night was no different; we had a nearly-full house. But instead of the usual laughter and chit-chat as the night went on, the students became quieter and quieter until the library was nearly silent. It was eerie. Come closing time, students — Black students, Muslim students, LGBT students, young women, and even many of their white CIS male friends — walked out of the library clutching their books to their chests, huddling close to their friends, all of them in tears and looking exhausted and hopeless. I’m surprised I was able to keep it together myself. I almost made it home without breaking down, until a fellow campus employee told me he voted for Trump and asked me why I was so upset he was winning.

“I’m afraid my rights as a woman will be taken away,” I told the coworker, my voice shaking. But I wasn’t fully crying just yet. “I’m afraid my friends’ rights will be taken away.”

“Well, he’ll probably get impeached anyway,” the coworker said. “He’s an idiot.”

“But then we’re stuck with Pence, and he’s almost scarier,” I said. I was about to follow up with, “And if you think Trump’s an idiot, then why did you vote for him?” but before I could say that…

…that’s when the coworker asked me: “Who’s Pence?”

I laughed and started crying at the same time. The sheer ignorance blew my mind.

Crying, I explained who Pence was and what his stance is on LGBT “conversion” therapy and women’s rights.

The coworker went white as a sheet. “I had no idea.”

Early the next morning I woke up to the news that our campus was already targeted in a racist act. It went viral on Facebook and was even reported on CNN. It was hard to go back to work that evening, hard to be on that campus, and hard to even summon the will to exist.

I tried to distract myself with homework, but graduate school was proving to be much more difficult than I expected. Long before election night I became disenchanted with the idea of being a librarian after two and a half long semesters trying to get there, and was starting to forget why I wanted the degree in the first place. Plus I just couldn’t bring myself to concentrate. I wanted to be a writer still, not a librarian.

But if there was one good thing about election night, it was this: It renewed my passion for both fields. I wanted to be a writer because writing helped me cope. I could be in the worst mood, and all I have to do is channel that feeling into my writing and suddenly I am infinitely happier.

And librarianship? I chose this field because I love books, yes — but also because it was a way I could help others. Writing is an isolating job, and much as I like to believe that someday I’ll write a novel that helps someone to escape reality for a little while, it’s not guaranteed. I can definitely help people as a librarian.

Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this whole story is because I know I’m not the only one who felt devastated the night of the election. Many of us felt our voices being taken from us that night, and since then — what with the repeal of Obamacare and the defunding of Planned Parenthood- it’s only gotten worse.

But the election inspired me to act. I’m putting my degrees to use by  starting a book club to help others use their voices. At first I considered keeping it small with close friends and family, but I’ve decided instead it will be an online group, the better to reach more people.

The book club will be called Open Ears, Open Minds and can be found on Goodreads here (please note you do need a Goodreads account to join — it’s completely free to sign up). We’ll discuss our picks bi-monthly (mostly because I already recently joined another book club and I need to make the schedule work). The purpose of OEOM is to create a safe space where people can share their experiences without interruption, without hatred — and a safe space for others to listen to their stories and learn without judgment.

The key to understanding and empathizing with those who are different from us is by listening to their stories. We can achieve this  by reading books by and for marginalized groups: the disabled, LGBT+, women, Muslims, Black people, Asian people, Jewish people, teens and elders (because yeah, ageism is a thing and it’s unfortunately very prominent even amongst librarians I’ve noticed), indigenous peoples, and more.

You don’t have to be a member of these marginalized groups to join the book club. In fact, I encourage CIS white heterosexual men to join! (No trolls and no harassment welcome, of course. No “playing the devil’s advocate.” Just listening and learning and growing.) I also highly encourage members of these marginalized groups to join as well; your stories will add so much to our discussions!

You can vote in the poll on the group’s homepage for our first pick! I have suggested three titles, but there’s also a choice to fill in your own pick. Here are the three I suggest:

  1. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: February is LGBT+ History Month over in the UK, and Black History Month here in the US. Giovanni’s Room, written by a gay, Black man, tells the story of a man engaged to a woman, but in love with another man. This is a slightly heavier read, but it feels appropriate to suggest it given the month’s celebrations.
  2. If At Birth You Don’t Succeed by Zach Anner: Written by the Buffalo-native YouTuber famous for his “Workout Wednesday” videos, this is a hilarious memoir about life with cerebral palsy. It comes highly recommended by my sister, and I’ve been eager to read it. If we want our first discussion to be lighter in tone, this would be a great choice.
  3. Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: This is a collection of short stories about, well… difficult women… by the unapologetic and bold author of “Bad Feminist.” It was just recently published and has already received high praise. The first discussion boards will open on March 30, which is the end Women’s History Month, so this felt like another appropriate suggestion.

Given the facts that (1) I’m announcing this kind of late, (2) February is a shorter month, and (3) many people might not have that much free time to read, I’m extending the two-month date a little bit. Our first discussion (online, remember!) will begin March 30, as I said above. We’ll probably spend a few days on the discussion board talking about the book, and then pick our next book.

I hope you’ll join me!

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions. In the meantime, happy reading!

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