Book club members find escape and community at Geneseo for more than 100 years.

By Mary-Margaret Dwyer ’20

In 1940, Marie Laure and her father fled to the French countryside when the German army invaded Paris. There she encountered Werner, a German who tracked the Resistance. Their tale, told in Anthony Doerr’s book “All the Light We Cannot See,” is one of survival, and how people try to be good to each other.

Doerr’s story won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the imagination of Kennedy Priest ’20, president of Geneseo Reads. It sent her back in time.

“I found it so inspiring and yet unsettling,” says Priest. “It was also beautifully written, so it was entertaining to read.”

“All the Light We Cannot See” was one of many books members of Geneseo’s student-run book club read last year. The group gathers biweekly to discuss their opinions, perspectives and joy in reading.

Possible themes are chosen at random from a bowl, then members suggest and vote on books related to that theme. “Fiction” and “Historical books” make appearances. So do more creative themes, such as “Books that you’d read on a rainy day” and “The book was better than the movie.”

Such a welcoming environment for readers, says Priest, has made her feel accepted and understood, and opened her to new ideas and interpretations of the books members read, which often prompt deeper conversations.

“It’s a community of people who like to read and that’s very comforting,” says Priest. “We are all going through similar situations and similar problems. That makes it easier to understand one another’s perspectives.”

Creating a community around reading and ideas has been popular at Geneseo for more than 100 years. In the 1928 yearbook, members of the Literary Club highlighted how they focused their year exploring American authors, contemporary dramatists and British poets. If you want to read what they did, check out a copy of “Now Are Six” by A.A. Milne or “Yule Fire” by Marguerite Wilkinson.

The tradition continues with Geneseo Reads — and within the digital age. A new online book club run by the Office of Alumni Relations unites alumni, parents of current students and friends of the College, wherever they may be. Created last August, it has 600 members — including alumni from each decade, starting in the 1950s — who select and read a book every six to eight weeks. As they do, members are encouraged to add to an online discussion.

Myra Batista ’90 finds the online club expands the types of books she reads. “I particularly enjoy comments that are completely different from what I was thinking,” she says. “It just gets you to consider other things about the reading material and what the author was trying to convey.”

There are different reasons to join a book club, but members share one commonality: reading brings them joy.

“I am in the club to gather with other book lovers who share my passion for reading,” Priest says. “It is an activity that many of us enjoy and use to de-stress.”