Staff English Book Club: “Trust Exercise” By Susan Choi
By: Matthew Jellick
Beginning in mid-February through an online platform, and culminating in mid-May finally meeting in person, myself as well as a group of 10 staff members from Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) have just completed our sixth English Book Club. Each semester we read a different genre, while also aiming to vary the background of our authors, ranging from Asian, to African to American. This year, we read Susan Choi’s novel, “Trust Exercise”, meeting digitally on Zoom, every-other-week, to discuss the book, it’s characters, and the complex issues at play including gender disparities, economic dichotomies, and thematic shifts which took us along for an interesting ride.
Looking back to Spring, 2017 when I began this programming at my university, I am always amazed at the expanded worldview which these novels provide for our Book Club, encouraging us to see ideas through new lenses, tinted by the reflection from different points of view. Similarly, the words of the authors allow an insight into unique ways of thinking, helping us to reexamine preconceived notions, and to think critically about situations far removed from our daily lives. This held true with “Trust Exercise” which straddled the foggy line between adulthood and adolescence, touching upon issues of love, loss and life, and how they shape us as we grow, tethering us back to people or places, perhaps, but if examined closely, emboldening us to grow and become our own selves.
Midway through the semester, I took the opportunity to write to our author, Susan Choi, and with a personability which is mirrored in many of her characters, she wrote back(!), addressing some of the questions the Book Club members had posed, speaking truth to power, not shying away, but rather beautifully articulating carefully crafted responses. A National Book Award Winner, Ms. Choi has mastery of her words, but with a familiarity in her answers to our questions, it was as if she was sitting down for coffee with us, explaining the complexities of her novel in understanding and personalized terms. Her letter was beautiful, and a reminder to myself that the reason I teach, is to constantly learn.
For second-language learners, these books which I choose are challenging from a linguistic approach, but what I encourage my students to do is read for context, not clarity. It is the issues which I want to challenge them, not the language, and I firmly believe that at the end of each semester, the horizon onto which they place their understanding of global topics is broadened, giving them more power to defy complacency and think in expanded terms. The Staff English Book Club is one of the most rewarding things I do at SUSTech, and I am already looking forward to next semester, where once again we will learn through reading, sharing ideas which challenge, and growing together through words.
Shenzhen Daily Link: http://www.szdaily.com/content/2020-05/20/content_23168906.htm