During lockdown, there was anecdotal evidence of a rise in ‘virtual’ book clubs and people turning to literature as a way to escape and connect with each other. This inspired academics in Oxford University’s English Faculty to create a ‘ten-minute book club’ for anyone who wants to explore literature but is short on time and low on energy.
Starting this week, the project run by Dr Alexandra Paddock, Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr and Dr Erica Lombard is releasing ten-minute literary extracts from books selected by Oxford academics every week until early October.
The books will appear here.
The extracts come from a wide selection of genres, including novels, essay collections, poetry and short stories. Each is accompanied by a short introduction (in text, video or audio format) by an Oxford academic suggesting themes or contexts to think about, as well as suggestions for further reading around the book and a free link to the full text.
Dr Alexandra Paddock said: “We noticed during lockdown that so many people turned to literature for escape, connection and excitement, but at the same time that the pressures of lockdown were making long, intense stretches of reading harder for many of us. That is why we set up Ten-Minute Book Club, although we strongly believe its content will be relevant and useful long after the current restrictions have been removed. For this project, we brought forward some resources from our project LitHits, a free app being created in the Faculty of English at Oxford, which is designed to tackle some of the barriers to reading for pleasure.”
“We have designed Ten-Minute Book Club as a DIY collection of readings to be enjoyed alone or to spark discussion with family, friends, colleagues or anyone else you’d like to connect with. We chose a mixture of classic, well-known literature and outstanding works that deserve more prominence, mostly from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
“All the works are originally written in English, by authors writing all over the world, including New Zealand, Ireland, the Caribbean, India, United States, and Britain, for example. Whilst our brief, curated extracts might encourage readers to dive into the full book, we also want to emphasize the worth of engaging with shorter reading.
“In choosing our writers we aim to foreground the historical importance of writers of colour and the global history of literature in English. We are committed to reckoning with the colonial values still inherent in the canon of English literature, and to the urgency and importance of working to decolonise the curriculum.”
The first book to be released is The Souls of Black Folk by the 19th century sociologist, Pan-Africanist, novelist and critic W.E.B. Du Bois. You can find it here.
The full list of authors is as follows: W.E.B. Du Bois, Toru Dutt, Mary Prince, Geoffrey Chaucer and Patience Agbabi, Olaudah Equiano, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Keckley, James Joyce, Mary Shelley, Charlotte Brontë.
Patience Agbabi, Oxford English alumna and the one modern-day writer in the toolkit, kindly gave permission for her text to be used for free in this way. The other books are out of copyright so they are free to access.
Professor Karen O’Brien, Head of Humanities at Oxford University and a founder of the project, said: “We believe that literature is more important than ever as we live through the current pandemic, and come to terms with its challenges and meaning for all of our lives. Ten-Minute Book Club aims to make a great conversation about literature possible, and to offer a quick and accessible way into some of the greatest writing by extraordinary writers from all backgrounds, guided by Oxford’s expertise on exciting authors and books.”
The resources in the Ten-Minute Book Club were created by Oxford's Great Writers Inspire, Writers Make Worlds and LitHits projects, and supported by the Faculty of English and the Humanities Division at Oxford University.
You can read more about the project in the Oxford Mail.