Western Reads kicks off newest season

Frank Neufeld // Western News

Western Reads returns with four stories of Greek gods, death-row prisoners, teenage hostages and reflections on race in America.

The book club series kicks off this spring with Canadian author and former Western Writer-In-Residence André Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs. The story begins with a bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo, who gift a group of dogs at a Toronto veterinary clinic with human intelligence. Readers will be invited to discuss the book at an event held at 7 p.m. April 27 in Somerville House, Room 3320. Western News Editor Jason Winders will facilitate this discussion.

In May, the series turns to The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, with Executive Director, Development Programs Carole Stinson facilitating the discussion at an event on May 25.

The book club will continue in the fall with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between The World And Me and The Masked Truth by Kelley Armstrong, BA’91 (Psychology). The details of these events will be confirmed at a later date.

In the past, Western Reads has primarily focused on Canadian authors. While two of the authors have Canadian and Western roots, this year the book list has expanded to include two American authors, Denfeld and Coates.

“We really try to pick great books that will lead to great conversation,” said Trista Walker, Executive Director of Alumni Relations. “At Western Reads, there is never fierce disagreements or anything, but some really great conversations can happen. The books touch people in different ways.

“We still are committed to Canadian works and the two we’ve chosen both have a Western tie-in. But we are expanding our horizons a bit with some of the U.S. titles we have.”

Great care is taken to select books that many readers may not have been exposed to or up-and-coming authors, rather than popular bestsellers, she noted. Walker said the organizers plan to use Twitter and Skype, to provide unique access to the authors at events, as well.

“It’s been fulfilling for us to see the books we are choosing are making an impact on folks and swaying their reading decisions,” Walker said.

As the program has evolved, changes have been made to the public events. This year, there will not be celebrity readers leading the discussions.

“Celebrity readers can add a nice element or variable to it (the events). But what we are finding is people just want to get together and talk about the book and they don’t need to be prompted as much as they were in the early days,” she said. “It used to be that we didn’t necessarily have an expectation that you had read the book before you came. A lot of people would come and listen to the discussion and then say, ‘OK, I want to read this book now.’”

Western Reads provides a sense of community and reinforces Western Alumni Association’s commitment to lifelong learning, Walker continued.

“Reading can be an insular, individual pursuit. This is set up to be a shared reading experience,” she said.

The books will be available for purchase at The Book Store at Western, or borrowed from London Public Library or Western Libraries. The books will be discussed via social media and alumni branch and chapter communities are encouraged to participate.

Western Reads was started in 2003 as part of Western’s 125th anniversary celebrations and continued until 2009. After a temporary hiatus, it returned last year with a focus on short stories by Canadian authors.