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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Four Brandeis students get together to read, and they call it… SYMPOSIUM

Published: January 19, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

When is the last time you read a book? Probably last semester. When is the last time you read a book for pleasure? Probably in third grade, R.L. Stines Goosebumps. But one group of Brandeis students reads for pleasure and gets their work done. Well, sometimes.

It was late 2004 when four students, Dan Newman, Alex Friedman, Carlen Dimichele, and one other Brandesian attended David Powelstocks Art of Living class, a USEM+W. We thought it was hip to read books and discuss them outside of class, and the Symposium by Plato gave us the medium to do it, Newman recalled.

Since the class, the group has continually met, continually reading classic novels, and formed a quasi-reading club of sorts, which they call Symposium. Every month or so, the gang gets together to talk, with no defined routine or schedule, but just questions and perceptions, tangents and topics, as Newman put it, about the book or anything else. And they bring some snacks.

We stay away from the typical Reading Group Guide type questions, Friedman said. We just talk about what interested us, and throw out whatever questions we think will make for good arguments We often get sidetracked but we usually return to the point.

We love getting into intellectual scuffles, Newman commented.

The squad ended last semester with A Clockwork Orange by Burgess, a showing of the movie Mystery-Science Theatre 3000 style, cheese and crackers, and a good discussion. They started with Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, and moved on to Catch-22, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, and Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky. Next up is No Country for Old Men by McCarthy.

The books we have chosen have been recommended either by people in the group, the NY Times Book Review, and most recently, Professor Flesch, Friedman said. Were open to any novel that can spark discussion.

Their inspiration came from Platos Symposium, in which great brains eat, drink and talk philosophy all night. For the rest of the term, it became a running joke that we would actually put what we read into practice and toga up, said the fourth member of the group. They hosted a symposium, with the organization of Professor Powelstock, for their USEM class, and the following semester, they began independent meetings for the Symposium.

Having this club has taught me to give my professors a lot more credit for coming up with good discussions (when they are able to), because its pretty hard, Friedman said.

Meanwhile, the students are now reading more than the average college student. There have definitely been times when I preferred reading the books we chose over my readings for class Friedman continued. Its pleasure reading with a purpose.

We usually read them over school breaks, and if we havent we crunch for Symposium because its worth it, said Newman.

Though the group has never thought of becoming chartered or recognized, Newman wouldnt mind some new members. We just ask for people to have read the book, he said.

Friedman agrees. Were definitely open to new members if people have the determination to take the time to read something outside their syllabi and come talk about it, they are welcome.

The fourth member disagrees. Dont invite people to our symposia. I personally do not encourage random nitwits to show up at these symposia.