This past summer I received an email asking if I’d like to get involved with the Queen’s Reads program. I had heard of the program before – a university-wide common reading program with one book chosen each year – and I remembered seeing boxes of last year’s book The Break by Katherena Vermette being distributed around campus; I even grabbed my own copy because who can pass up a free book? Unfortunately, like many graduate students, I suffered from the belief that there’s no time any more to read for fun. If there is time to read, the guilty voice inside my head tells me I should probably pick one of those 100+ books I have out from the library on my dissertation topic that require extensive note-taking and post-it note usage. My own copy of the The Break sadly sat on my shelf opened last year, but upon receiving this email and looking more into the work the programming run through Queen’s Reads, I decided to give the new book a shot.
Once I had this year’s book, Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez, in hand I devoured it in two days (it may be the first book I’ve read for fun since beginning my PhD here five years ago!). The book took me on a surprising roller coaster of emotions, as it explores the lives of various individuals in a culturally diverse, low-income neighbourhood in the east of Toronto. Each chapter takes on the perspective of a different character, bringing together voices from conflicting backgrounds, belief systems, and differing economic situations. Some chapters focus on the experiences of the young children in the neighbourhood while others offer the parents’ perspectives. The stories intermingle and overlap as you begin to see where these very different people connect and influence each other’s lives.
I reached out to the Student Development Coordinator from the Student Experience Office, Sara Ali, to learn more about Queen’s Reads. Sara has worked at Queen’s for the past four years now, first in Athletics and now in the Student Experience Office. When the position of Student Development Coordinator came up, Sara was excited for the new opportunity. “The conversations we want to have at Queen’s on equity, diversity and inclusivity are very important to me personally and professionally,” says Sara. “This program has really brought light to a different way of being able to talk about these topics, and encourages these conversations to happen on campus. I fell into this position in a positive way and it’s been really fun so far!”
For those of you unfamiliar with the program works, one book is chosen each year and is distributed across campus to students, staff and faculty for free. Sara explained to me that the book is carefully chosen by a committee of students, staff and faculty, with input from the English Department, the Division of Student Affairs and the Human Rights Office. They also consult big book lists like the CBC Canada Reads that have been recently published to assist in making a short list, and they go from there. Sara is hoping that in upcoming years there can be more student input into which book is chosen as “how cool would it be to be able to say – they picked my book for Queen’s Reads!”
This year around 5000 books were ordered and distributed at various locations on campus and during a number of orientation events. If you haven’t picked up your book yet, you can find the pick-up locations on campus here (including Stauffer Library, the SGPS office, and the Student Experience Office). Throughout the year, the Student Experience Office hosts a number of events including two Reading Nooks that were held in September and October that offered readers cozy spots to come come together to read, discuss the themes of the book, have some snacks or to just engage in some self-care activities like colouring or making a bracelet. This past Monday was the first Book Club gathering that was held in the SGPS Lounge that was a space for facilitated discussion on the book led by the Inclusion & Anti-Racism Advisor with the Human Rights Office, Lavie Williams.
Other events to look forward to include an author talk on November 16th, when Catherine Hernandez will be at the Isabel Bader Centre with the Kingston Writer’s Fest to talk about Scarborough. If you sign up early and bring your copy of the book, you may even be able to get it signed by the author after the talk! Tickets are free for Queen’s students, staff and faculty but you need to reserve yours before space runs out. You can find more information about the event here. More events will be held throughout the year as well, so make sure to follow the Student Experience Office’s facebook page to get the latest updates.
Finally, I asked Sara why a graduate student, or anyone really, should take part in Queen’s Reads and read Scarborough this year, and she explained that, “one of the big reasons we have Queen’s Reads is to encourage these conversations around the topics of equity, diversity and inclusivity. This book does a really good job of talking about the challenges surrounding those themes. I think that it’s always good for anyone – students, staff, anyone – to read a book that offers different perspectives that you may not have experienced so we all can better understand each other.” Sara stresses that it’s important to bring these conversations to a campus setting, and that the book itself is a really quick read, making it accessible to those people who may not have a lot of spare time to read. “I read it in an afternoon, I never wanted to put it down,” she added.
Make sure to pick up your copy of Scarborough soon if you haven’t already and join in on the conversation!
— Isabel Luce