Western Reads pens a fresh chapter for community

Trista Walker couldn’t be happier to see the resurrection of Western Reads.

The campus book club started as a way to celebrate Western’s 125th anniversary in 2003, as a means to creatively engage alumni and the local community, encouraging readership of works by renowned Canadian authors. It went on a temporary hiatus in 2009, but its comeback is around the corner.

And for Walker, this is exciting news.

“Reading can be a singular thing, but being able to talk to others, to a panelist, about a book can engage (the reader) that much more,” said Walker, executive director of Alumni Relations at Western.

Reading and discussing literary works as a community is not just about engagement – it’s about learning and growing as a community as well, Walker noted. She still remembers the last round of Western Reads, when one of the books on the docket was Richard Wagamese’s Ragged Company, a story of four chronically homeless people who, seeking refuge from the cold in a movie theatre, discover a winning lottery ticket worth millions of dollars.

The panel discussion of Ragged Company was moderated by Henry Estabrook, an outreach worker from the London Intercommunity Health Centre, who shed light on homelessness in London. He encouraged those present not to ignore the vulnerable on the sidewalk, but to look them in the eye. That night changed the way Walker sees individuals on the street, she said, adding she knows others walked away with similar epiphanies.

“I’ve always known about the power of a book to change one’s thinking, but we had a collective experience that night – the whole room. You could see it on the faces,” Walker said.

Set to re-launch on Feb. 1, the upcoming round of Western Reads will feature three books: Hellgoing by Lynn Coady in February; Open by Lisa Moore in March; and Dear Life by Alice Munro, DLitt’76, in April. The focus, this time around, is on short stories written by women.

With the rebirth of Western Reads, it seemed appropriate to celebrate Munro and to breathe life into creativity in the campus community, Walker said, including the new Alice Munro Chair in Creativity, announced after the author’s Nobel Prize win in 2013.

Going forward, Western Reads will focus on one genre per series. Instead of five books, there will be three – with no vote to decide a favourite at the end. There also will be new ways for alumni and community readers to engage, through social media, video talks by faculty members and evening and noon-hour events.

Conversations are encouraged online and book club events will be scheduled for the end of each month.

Celebrity readers, including Scott Russell, Host of CBC Sports Weekend, and Maggie Wrobel, editor and writer at The Globe and Mail, will join panel discussions.

Books can be purchased at The Bookstore at Western, at a 20 per cent discount, or borrowed from London Public Library or Western Libraries.

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GET YOUR READ ON. To participate in Western Reads, register online at alumni.westernu.ca/learn/western-reads/. The first 100 people to register will receive a free copy of one of this session’s books. Follow Western Reads on Twitter @westernuReads, use #purplereads and sign up for Facebook events.