Fellows Reading Group
8 September 2011
Our first reading group meeting of the year will start shortly. I have settled down in the lounge a few minutes ahead of the meeting. In front of me is a chocolate cake I'd bought over the weekend to set the mood. It is a very large cake. But that is for the better. It is hard to be too serious with such an absurd object in the middle of the table. That is my goal. I want our new visitors to relax and get to know each other.
I'm sitting in the empty room with a purpose. It is likely to draw the Fellows in early. They pass the open door and see me there and drift in one at a time. The chatter starts. By our announced starting time, pretty much everyone is there.
I've delayed adding photos to the Wall of Fame until now. Our old Polaroid finally ran out of film and they no longer make new film for it. We have Fuji Instax in its place. I move around the table snapping photos, ineptly. Somehow what I see through the viewfinder never matches what comes out on the images. I don't plan to include that much ceiling. The Fellows are writing their names on the photos.
We now proceed through the agenda. I make my opening speech about how we will run the reading group. Each of us in turn nominates 12 pages of anything. All discussion will be supportive. Use your offices. Work in your offices. Be in your offices.
Then we go round introducing ourselves. We each have ten minutes. Everyone wonders how they will manage ten minutes coherently without preparation. And everyone finds that it flows cogently and simply. As I look round the room, I can see little lights of recognition flicker as problems and interests are described. These are the first moments of connections that will grow during the term.
Somewhere in all this, the cake is sliced and pieces are passed around.
When the talking is finished, we assemble for a group photo.
The weather is still warm, so dinner will be outdoors. A few are going by car and the rest come with me on the bus. Our destination is the Doublewide Grill on the Southside. It is quintessentially American: a converted gas station that serves burgers and bar food. We can sit outside opposite the pumps, enjoying one of the last warm evenings of the receding summer.
The complication is the small chance of rain. It is a gamble I take since next week the weather is likely colder; and the week after colder still. It is a gamble I lose. After we are seated, the rain pours down. We are just under shelter, but a slight wind carries a rain spray over us. We move our tables incrementally further from the edge.
The rain does not deter us. After the food is eaten and the last beer drunk, we are still there. The conversation has turned from idle chatter to serious philosophy of science and no one wants to break it up.
John D. Norton