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miriam cook
Miriam Cook

This past summer, Miriam Cook ’10 realized she was missing her former Whitman classmates. Looking for a way to reconnect with her fellow Whitties scattered across the country, the English major decided to form a book club. Online.

“I missed reading really good books and talking about them with my literary friends,” said Cook, who now lives in Boston and is pursuing an MFA at Emerson College.

“Between looking for jobs and then working for a nonprofit technology association, I didn’t have a lot of time to read. As nerdy as it sounds, I missed classes in the English department.”

To fill the void, Cook sent out a book club invitation on Facebook and found that other alumni were interested in rekindling friendships – 10 former English majors signed up.

“We wanted to relive our glory days as Olin-bound bookworms,” said Anastasia Zamkinos ’10 referring to Olin Hall, campus home of the English department.

computer and books

“We motivated one another and pushed each other intellectually in a way that I came to miss after having graduated. I joined the book club to have a little window back into that intellectual community we had formed as Whitman students and to structure a healthy literary diet into my post-grad life.

“Now we meet about once a month via the wonders of Google Chat,” she said.

Whitman students receive a liberal arts education that compares favorably with other important national colleges. Equally important, however, is that they develop enduring friendships and a desire to continue learning even after they’ve taken their final exams.

“The wonderful thing about the book group is that we now have a standing video chat date with each other once a month,” Cook said. “We can have a group conversation where we get to see everyone’s faces, and we have real, intellectual conversations. 

“I feel like I’m not only catching up with friends, but feeding my mind at the same time. We’re located all over the country, but for at least two hours a month, we’re almost in the same room together.”

swamplandia cover  train dreams cover

Cook said the selection of books the club has read has been phenomenal, including “Swamplandia,” by Karen Russell, and “Train Dreams,” by Denis Johnson. The group is currently reading Zadie Smith’s new novel, “NW.”

Because the book club members are Whitman alumni, the online discussion sessions are like mini graduate school seminars. Members write reviews of the books and blog about the discussions. One blog, a deconstruction of Ryan Boudinot’s “Blueprints of the Afterlife,” was so engrossing that the novelist himself responded to the blog.

“Thanks for doing this,” wrote Boudinot. “You sound like a cool, thoughtful person who spent two hours with other cool, thoughtful people, discussing something that came out of my head. And for that I’m grateful. I wish you ridiculous happiness.”
The 10 book club members are, in fact, “cool, thoughtful people.” They graduated from Whitman and are still committed to the idea that academic rigor and intellectual creativity is a lifelong endeavor.

“This September I started the MFA program at Emerson College,” said Cook. “Other people in the book group are doing similarly literary things. A couple of members are working for publishers and magazines. It’s really amazing to see what everyone chooses to pursue and how my classmates are making a living in the literary world.”

—Edward Weinman