[by Kendra Hovey]
“Liking the book is not the point. The conversation that follows is.”
This is what Catalina Gorla would like you to know about Readers’ Roundtable. She’d also like you to know, chances are, that conversation will be “quality,” “organic” and “rich.”
If you haven’t heard, Readers’ Roundtable is the new TEDxColumbus-inspired book club (of sorts). Here’s how it works: a past TEDxColumbus speaker chooses a book, any book (or sometimes a film), and interested people read it (or view it) then gather to eat, meet and discuss. The speaker facilitates, participants are limited to 20 (“to preserve intimacy”), and, technically, it is free—$15 or $20 goes to the cost of a meal. Sessions repeat monthly, each time with a new title, new speaker and new group (the first 20 to sign up).
It is not a lecture, nor a round-robin discussion. It is a conversation, and one that doesn’t typically take much to get going. “We are empowered by information,” says Gorla, “people who read the book find they have something to say.”
And who is Gorla? She is the catalyst and engineer behind the event. She’s also an economist at Nationwide, with a degree in art history and an interest in books, community and entrepreneurship. Born in Romania, when still young she immigrated to the U.S. with her family. Their landing point was Idaho. From there, she went to New Hampshire and in 2009 moved to Columbus, which is where she was when she picked up The Brothers Karamazov.
The book made her feel lonely. Though, no fault of Dostoevsky: “I really wanted to share it and talk about it,” she explains. It was from this want that Gorla developed a new model for a book club—new, because the standard model gravitates towards contemporary fiction and titles are often picked randomly. Gorla thought that if everyone was going to commit to read a book, at least one person should be passionate about it and eager to discuss it. More than anything, though, she wanted diversity. “Not just women my age and my friends,” she says, “I wanted different people with different experiences.”
Gorla did not say what you might be thinking—that books are often tangential to book clubs real purpose: wine and friends. She doesn’t say this because for her, too, the purpose is social. The book is the “glue,” she says, so people can come together to share and listen and build community.
Her affinity-based, open (based on sign-up), and facilitated model, Gorla calls “Our Books.” She tried it out at Nationwide. It is now in its second year (read more about it here). Our Books provides the framework for Readers’ Roundtable and Gorla plans to operationalize the model for use within different organizations. And why would organizations be interested? Focused dialogue is a good in itself, but Gorla believes that with it can come a whole host of good things: community-building, problem-solving, empowerment, understanding, enjoyment, and, of particular importance, communication. “We don’t have to agree to communicate,” she says. The idea is not to reach some crystallized endpoint. Instead, she says, “we can learn how to listen and we can soften the blow of differences of opinion by putting it into dialogue.”
The Readers’ Roundtable schedule can be found here. Claudia Kirsch launched the series in March with a discussion on fixed and growth mindsets. The April dialogue with David Burns focused on the whys of the financial crisis and deepened understanding of the many ways it reverberated through individual lives. Last week, with 2010 speaker David Staley, the dialogue centered on three questions. Given that discipline-jumping and expertise-mashing sparks innovation and creativity, do we:
- find similar crossover within ourselves? —The answer: yes, no and sometimes
- see it supported and nurtured in institutions and organizations? —Hardly, and it can be challenging to initiate
- have ideas to help nurture it within our own sphere of existence? —Yeah, lots, including emptying a room (removing it of embedded routine) and also filling a room (but with two seemingly disparate elements—a math teacher and art teacher, say).
Coincidentally, next month’s Readers’ Roundtable (June 8 at the Main Library) mixes things up a bit. The book this time is a film (“Finding Joe“). The speaker/facilitator is Jason Barger. And this time, instead of dinner, the conversation will be held over lunch (11:30–1pm).