Revisiting the Classics: An Interview With the Founders of Long Hard Book Club


Back in July, Brooklyn writers Ruth Reader and Gio Serrano began an out-of-the-ordinary literary gathering called Long Hard Book Club. The aim of the club is to tackle known classics that are both arduous in length and content. First up? Moby-Dick. I sat down with them to discuss the reasons why they began LHBC, and how the first meets have gone.

So what made you want to do this club?

Ruth: It started out as a conversation about grad school and whether I would go or if I would apply. Gio said, ‘Look at all these books we have on our shelf that you can learn from. All we need is the discussion portion.’ So we thought about actually making that happen.

Gio: The other component is that a lot of people are marginally familiar with these books, but they’re forcefed them in school and aren’t allowed an adult appreciation for them. When you’re an adolescent no one’s thinking about the whale and the scarlet letter and what these things really mean. It kind of takes a fully formed adult mind.

Ruth: That’s true. When your teachers are saying, “This is what this means,” it doesn’t necessarily stick. It’s hard to swallow an adult telling you ideas. It’s better to be conversational about it.

Why do you think a club like this is important?

Ruth: You get to engage with people you wouldn’t normally engage with about things that are actually interesting.

Gio: There are a lot of not like-minded people with different voices who are coming together to offer up opinions that are different from each other. There’s some sense of intelligence that’s needed to engage with these texts, and I think everyone has something to offer. I was asked earlier how we curated the club and one of the great things is, it’s curated itself by virtue of the people that heard about it and wanted to be a part of it.

So would you say that this is different the from the typical book club because of the text you’re working with?

Gio: Completely.

Ruth: It’s inherent from the title. We’re tackling big-ass, difficult books.

How do you think selecting things that are hard are beneficial to do in a group instead of alone?

Ruth: You are not going to think of all the angles and interpretations of a given text.

Gio: Not even the intentions of the writer, but the non-intentions too.

Ruth: Exactly. So having other people to bounce ideas off of is beneficial to do in a group.

Gio: And to the point that “one needs to be educated,” that becomes such a subjective thing, because there’s lots of people here with degrees, and people with highly respected educations, and one thing I like to invoke is the capacity for people to say, “I don’t know what I just read,” despite these degrees. All those things go out the window when we we’re here discussing the text.

Ruth: So much is just figuring it out, and just enjoying it. So many people are saying, “This is the fifth time I’m reading Moby-Dick, and this is the first time I’m really with it.”

Gio: One of the things that’s come up is the comparison of long hard books, especially old, long hard books, to contemporary T.V. shows like Breaking Bad or Mad Men. These are epic pieces of work. If you take the page count of Mad Men from start to finish, you’re working with what amounts to a large novel. One of the pleasures of dealing with those shows is sharing your experience. So our idea with the book was to read it episodically and take it in over the course of the months like we do with these shows.

Ruth: Book clubs are also a good time. People are yelling, and saying things like “the whiteness of the whale–can you believe it??” In a classroom setting you’d talk about these things in such an academic setting. Here we had a valuable and interesting discussion about very adult themes.

How do you think knowing other people are reading it affects you reading it?

Ruth: Well, I think it makes you meet the deadline. You want to talk about it in full. You don’t want to be behind.

How did the first meet go?

Ruth: I loved how many people came, and I loved how enthusiastic they all were. That was the best part. There was so much high energy, a chair was broken in the process from a person actually jumping up and down about a point they were making.

Gio: The dynamic was very interesting because we have close friends, and then people who came because they heard about us. We have people who feel comfortable, and then people offering new points of view. It goes back to the thing I was saying earlier, about it organically curated itself. It’s a great mix of people coming together from different backgrounds with different experiences.

What’s in the future?

Gio: The book club is still very much in its infancy so it’s hard to gauge that, but we’ve talked about podcasts. We’re afraid it may hold people back from speaking freely, but there’s been so much interest and enthusiasm from people who can’t make it. The organic growth is important to dictate its future.

Long Hard Book Club meets every third Thursday of the month at 950 Hart St, #201, Brooklyn. You may visit them on Facebook.

Follow Vol. 1 Brooklyn on TwitterFacebookGoogle +, our Tumblr, and sign up for our mailing list.