Reading Group… Is it old-fashioned? Maybe some people think so. I run a reading group and I would like to share how I did it. As a librarian and a teacher it was a challenge for me. I hope you will think a bit differently about reading groups after reading about my experiences.
Esol Cafe is a language school in Cambridge and I had a chance to have a reading group (called ’Just Read’) there. It is a well-known language school and I have been a volunteer there for 2 years. I was very lucky because I run ’Just Read’ with a lovely, native speaker teacher, Rachel. As I am Hungarian, it was a big help. She always gave us a deeper insight. If we had an expression or sentence that was difficult to understand, she explained it. We sometimes talked about the origin of a word. Later some native speaker volunteers also joined us who really enjoyed the sessions and shared a lot of interesting things with us.
I think we analyzed this novel quite deeply. We did not only talked about the story and shared our opinions, but also tried to find the typical structures and words that the author used in this novel. And we practiced some grammar as well. We talked about the atmosphere of the different scenes and our volunteers highlighted some really important and interesting things that we would not have been aware of, if we had read the book alone.
It was Michaelmas term (Autumn term in the colleges in Cambridge) in 2017 and this ghost novel really suited this season with its special athmosphere. And suited the place as well, since it sets mostly in Cambridge. I chose: Susan Hill: The Man in the Picture. http://www.susanhill.org.uk/
The Man in the Picture is a ghost story, by Susan Hill, about a Venetian painting. It sets in different gloomy places in England. It starts on a cold, dark winter night in a room in one of Cambridge’s colleges, when an elderly scholar, Dr. Theodor Parmitter, feels the urge to tell his story to Oliver, one of his ex-students. (Kathlen)
The book is 145 pages and has 9 chapters. We had 8 sessions (8 weeks). We had an introduction in the first session and a summary in the last one. So we had 6 sessions to read through the book. So we read cca. 30 pages (1-2 chapters) each week.
The book drew my attention from its first page and kept my enthusiasm high through its chapters. Especially the splendid descriptions of the places where it passes are very impressive for me. (Eser)
Our ‘weekly routine’
We had a ’weekly routine’. Every time we gave titles for the chapters (as they are just numbered). This task was very interesting. Some of them gave a simple title, others gave a more meaningful title for the chapters.
Every week we had ’words of the week’. These could be nice, difficult, strange words. We focused on adverbs and adjectives as using more adverbs ad adjectives in the right place makes a text nicer and more colourful and helps to imagine a situation. We learnt some really useful ones e.g.: splendid, robust, meticulous, extremely grand, magnificent, tormented. And I think our favourite word was ’petered out’. And we will always remember when we shared our opinions related to this sentence (it took half an hour 🙂
’With so many billions of people born and all of us only having two eyes, one nose, one mouth, I suppose it is even more remarkable that there are not more identical.’ (p.24)
We always read loudly as well. They had to choose their favourite paragraphs in the chapter and explain why they chose them.
I sent a summary by mail to them after all of the sessions. It contained our new words, new grammar and the most important things that we talked about.
Finally everybody had to write a review. Everybody found it difficult in the first session when I shared my plan, but they could do and enjoyed it at the end of the course.
Sessions and chapters
Now I would like to mention some techniques that I used. If you choose this book to read in your reading group, feel free to use them. You can use these techniques for other novels as well.
We played a scene from this chapter in pairs. It was a dialogue between Theo and a man after the auction (p.15-18). They really enjoyed being actresses and actors. It was one of the funniest sessions.
It was a fearful part of the book and not easy to read. First we made a mind map about FEAR. This way we collected a lot of words that we
knew related to FEAR. After this, we talked about the following quotes about fear and oppression. (You can find some examples below. There are more in these chapters.)
’I stopped because a sense of fear and oppression came over me like a wave of fever, so that a shudder ran through my body’ – (p.32)
’The fear I felt was not of anyone of anything, it was just an anonymous, unattached fear and I was in its grip.’ – (p.32)
’It [the fear] was combined with a sense of impending doom, a dread, and also with a terrible sadness, as if someone close to me was suffering and I was feeling that suffering with them.’ – (p.32)
’What I saw made my blood freeze.’ – (p.36)
You can find some conditinal sentences in these chapters, so it was a good topic for this session.
If I had not paused, it would have hit me on the head. (Chapter 5 – p.45)
… it would be better for your peace of mind if we let the whole thing drop (Chapter 5 – p.5)
I wrote some conditional sentences from the book with some missing words and they had to find them out.
The next chapter is The Countess’s Story. It was a bit long, so I divided it into two parts.
It was one of my favourite session. There are 9 scenes in this part of the book. I gave the list of the scenes to the students and a lot of words with them. They had to match the words to the scenes.
Love at First Sight
The Countess’s Upbringing
Lawrence’s Father, The Earl Of Hawdon’s Death
The Countess And the Picture
An example of the words:
Demonic Possession: Clarissa Vigo was jeaolus – a broken heart – bitter, angry – tormented – destroy other people’s happiness – undertook exorcisms – anonymus letter
Characters of the book
Of course we talked a lot about the characters as well. I think after reading cca. 100 pages they knew the characters much better, so they could match some expressions (from the book) with the characters. E.g. :
Dr. Theo Parmitter / Dr. Theo Parmitter’s: was an only child – mother died when he was 3 – aunt and uncle were cultured people –was hale and hearty – was in his eighties – was crippled by severe arthritis – had difficulty leaving his room – was one of a dying breed – was witty – was a picture dealer – was meticulous
They wrote about the characters in their reviews as well:
I am talking about two contrasting portraits: on one hand, the Countess, which is an example of perfect wife, submissive and devoted. Her life turns around Lawrence and his family. She has no name and her identity is a blurred one. She has no character. On the other hand, Clarissa Vigo is beautiful, young, elegant. She has a name and a surname, a very well defined identity, and she has human feelings such as jealousy. She’s a woman who has been betrayed and who is not going to forget it. (Felicea)
Looking at the whole story, men plays very passive roles and they tend to get killed and trapped in an haunted painting, which seems to be a blank page where women talk, fight, threaten and, maybe, forgive each other. (Kathlen)
Finally we read some other people’s opinions. (I collected them from the internet: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1854160.The_Man_in_the_Picture) I chose some opinions (some sentences) and printed them out. We compared our opinions with theirs. We also clarified the following expressions and talked about their importance: final line (in this case: ”I pray that I will not have a son.”) and plot hole.
I think, our last session was the best. We played two games. We laughed a lot. The first was a competition. They enjoyed it very much. They had to find out the second part (in italics) of the following sentences/expressions of the book (some example):
Hale and hearty – One of a dying breed – Take a brisk walk – A bottle of good claret – My aunt and uncle were surprisingly widely and well read – The picture is not for sale
The second game was This or That? (also called Would you rather questions) This or that questions is an amazing talking game where players choose which of two items they prefer. They do not have to give long explanation just quickly choose one of these possibilites.
Clarissa Vigo OR The Countess – Yorkshire OR Cambridge – Theo OR Oliver – keeping the Venetian painting OR selling the Venetian painting – going to the ball where the countess and Lawrence met OR going to the large dinner where the Countess met Clarissa before her honeymoon – whisky OR claret – honeymoon in Venice OR honeymoon anywhere else – meticulous OR does not follow a clear system
They also had to write ”This or That questions” and asked each others.
I can recommend this book for older readers and for those who are the fans of ghost story. (Eser)
It is an enjoyable read on a dark winter’s evening. It is a story within a story or I could say more stories within a story. It is a bit old-fashioned. I found it interesting and held my attention. After reading it, I had just one question in my mind: ”Who gave the painting to Clarissa Vigo?” (Anita)
P.S.: I finished this book on an aeroplane. When I closed it and looked up I saw an advertisement on the back of the seat in front of me. I did not understand it. I guess it was in Spanish. What I understood was only this word: VIGO – with capital letters. I made a photo, but it disappeared from my phone. I am sure I made it. I wanted to show it in the Reading Group. Later I found out Vigo is a Spanish island. To be honest, it was scary…