Annual book group continues through Zoom


Photo of Haubert’s Madame Bovary and Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.


Leia Gluckman staff writer
When Steven Rubenstein, the 12th Grade AP Literature teacher, started his book group nine years ago he hoped to bring parents and students together to bond over classic literature and thought-provoking discussions. Wanting students to be able to discuss the books they were reading in class at the dinner table, Rubenstein created this book group. Rubenstein hopes that the group serves as a motivator for students to read the text and develop their ideas about the book they are reading, even through Zoom meetings.
Rubenstein compares the discussion of ideas in his book group to those among friends at the movies.
“When you walk out of the movies and you start talking about what you’ve just seen and a lot of things occur to you, it’s because you’re having to put your own ideas into the [conversation].”
Hoping to give parents a glimpse into what their children are doing in class, Rubenstein invites his students’ parents to join in the discussion.
“I’m always frustrated by Back to School Night and Open House because the sessions that I have with the parents at both of those events are so brief,” Rubenstein said. “We don’t really get to talk about anything substantial. This is a great opportunity for that and also gives me insight into the students’ as well.”
Most years, Rubenstein’s book group reads Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. There have also been a few years where the group has read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility.
“One of the fun things with [Madame Bovary] is that at every stage in your life you have a different relationship with the text, and I thought that was really interesting…the perspective of the students versus the perspective of the parents is sometimes radically different.”
Rubenstein hopes that turning the book group into a family event will help students develop their understanding of the text.
“One year we read Sense and Sensibility because there was one parent in the group who had participated with another child in a previous year on Madame Bovary. After we did Sense and Sensibility,  the parents had such a good time that they wanted me to come back and do Madame Bovary, so I did.”
One of the big challenges that Rubesteing faces annually is that parents don’t always have time to read the book. To compensate for this and encourage parent participation, Rubenstein xeroxes copies of the passages that the group will be discussing so that all group members can follow along.
The main impact that quarantine has had on his book group is that parents usually bring an “incredible feast” to some of the meetings which will no longer be feasible.
“I love when parents get involved,” Rubenstein said. “The book group is a great opportunity for me to connect with the parents and for the parents to connect with one another.”
Bringing parents and students together to connect and converse results in several new ideas.
“When you talk about something, you realize a lot,” Rubenstein said in reference to the impact of his book group conversations. “All of your ideas kind of crystalize and, all of a sudden, [you] realize that it’s not even like you’re learning.”
Other book group participants were contacted for commentary but no response was received.