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The Book Club is the new Salon (If I have anything to say about it)

In my sophomore year of college, I took an English course with a young, fiery-tongued professor; who used the class as a…place to vent his worldly frustrations, as well as an incubator for the future.  We traipsed through books that could also be journalistic variations on Upton Sinclair’s The JungleNo Logo comes to mind, highlighting the plight of sweatshop and factory work.  

We were not going to leave that classroom uninformed or misinformed.  Not if he could help it.  

And although there was a clear scope or political bent in his heart, more than anything, he encouraged discourse with a dash of wit, gravity, and levity.  

Conclusions were unimportant.  They may have even been impossible, given the length of each period.  However, there was plenty to glean.  Pretty aloof and disinterested in politics as I was at the time (and remain just as disengaged with the current frothing at the mouth that passes for political theater nowadays), I instead learned about the man or woman in front of me.  The clean-cut young man who came from a conservative family; the dark-haired, dark-everything girl who’d chosen that outward expression to hint at the inner brooding about the world around us; the black gentleman who came from a family rooted in religion and nothing else.  Default democrats.  Me.  

Every idea was brought to the chopping block, and hammered til it shone.  Gold was extracted; fluff and idealism were discarded.  It all happened naturally, and there was no room to let the conversation devolve into ad hominem attacks and gotcha tactics.  

Where can we find this quality again?  I’d argue the 16th-century Salons of France and Italy.  These were (as far as we know today) places of discourse, philosophy, theosophy, pedagogy, and whatever else you could think of, depending on what part of the world you were in.  Ideas were put into the ring and had to battle it out…live or die on merit.  

However, none of us were alive during the 16th century. Most of the technology we enjoy today would be considered sorcery; and many of the hubs of conversation nowadays are…God awful.  Are we supposed to mete out the ideals of our republic in a loud bar on a cocktail of substances?  In universities that are seemingly growing their own accepted opinions by each calendar year (and are seeing numbers and funding take a nosedive)?  

How about on social media? Have you ever tried to have a civil conversation with someone in the comments section of Instagram and realized that most of your efforts were lost in explaining, in comment 10, what you meant in paragraph 2 of comment 1?

A screen is not a person.  An inebriated person is barely a person.

However, if you can get a few neighbors together, create a book list, and limit everyone to 1 or 2 glasses of Riesling, I believe we can border on the kind of discourse our fore fore fore fore fore fore…forefathers engaged in to become just a little more at ease with the mysteries of life.  

See, there is no reason to get together to talk about a book, other than to lend each character or setting, within the confines of the pages, our interpretations, and narratives, given our life experiences; and, although this may be a far cry from the scholarly types that pay have perused the halls of the most bourgeois halls, our anecdotes may be more pertinent and prescient.  Besides, every gathering of this nature is really rooted in our cultural griots, our storytellers.  This is really what we glean from gatherings with spirited discourse: a story; a tidbit of useful info; a mental exercise; a new lease on life; a new passion; a rekindling of passions. 

It is only relatively recently that we’ve lost the necessity to make conversation or endure awkward silence; and spaces specifically intended for dueling with higher thought. God only knows where you find those.

It’s up to us to bring these social hubs back to life, wherever the storyteller or philosopher may still find a throughline, wherever the rules still dictate two or more people’s interface.

Is it any wonder this generation can be so connected and yet, according to some recent polls, feel lonelier than any other generation?


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