Required Reading Revisited Book Club – May and June

In The Required Reading Revisited Book Club we focus on books considered “Required Reading” by most educational institutions, i.e. books you read (or were supposed to read) in school – either high school or university.

9780679744726On Sunday May 10th, we met in our usual place to discuss James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a book consisting of two essays. The first was penned as a letter to Baldwin’s 14 year old nephew about the challenges he would continue to face even 100 years after emancipation. The second went into Baldwin’s relationship with, and departure from, the Christian church, race relations in America in the 60s, and a meeting with Elijah Muhammad of The Nation of Islam.

The tone of the essays are deceptive in their gentleness. Baldwin expresses passion about the issues in a self-reflective and compassionate way, and never in an aggressive one. He speaks of love and beauty and truth, and of sadness at the state of things. And in this way makes the situation feel more real, getting to the heart of the matter with his eloquent prose and mindful analysis. Much of our discussion Sunday centered around how profoundly beautiful his writing is.

Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. – JB

It is the responsibility of free men to trust and to celebrate what is constant – birth, struggle, and death are constant, and so is love, though we may not always think so – and to apprehend the nature of change, to be able and willing to change. I speak of change not on the surface but in the depths – change in the sense of renewal. But renewal becomes impossible if one supposes things to be constant that are not – safety, for example, or money, or power. – JB

Cover by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame
Cover by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame

For June we go further back in time to revisit the Joseph Conrad classic, Heart of Darkness. Published originally in three parts in 1899, the Modern Library in 1998 ranked Heart of Darkness as the sixty-seventh of the hundred best novels in English of the twentieth century.

The story, based in part on Conrad’s own experience as a ship captain, is about a voyage up the Congo River into the heart of Africa aboard an Ivory trading steamboat. Marlow, the narrator, relates his story to a group of sailors on the Thames. Conrad uses Marlow as a way to create parallels between Africa and London as both being places of darkness. The novel explores themes or imperialism and racism.

Most famously, in 1979 the novel was adapted by Francis Ford Coppola as his film Apocalypse Now, with the setting updated to take place during the Vietnam War. A documentary about the making of the film was, in fact, called Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, in which the many problems encountered during the making of the film could be said to mirror the themes of Conrad’s book.

The Required Reading Revisited Book Club, hosted by Consuelo Hacker and Sarah Holdgrafer, meets on the 2nd Sunday of every month at 4pm at Book People (the next meeting is Sunday June 14th). We typically we meet on the 3rd floor. Just stop by the 1st floor information desk when you arrive if you are unsure where to go.  The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin and Heart of Darkness are both available online at Or if you come in to the store, don’t forget to mention it’s for Book Club when you purchase and you’ll receive 10% off at the register, or use the code BOOK CLUB when purchasing online! And join our Facebook page to get all the latest information! We look forward to talking with you on Sunday, June 14th!

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