Alum Book Club

The University of Kansas libraries have created an online book club for alumni called Jayhawk Book Club. Members communicate using Facebook.

The University of Kansas’ online book club has begun discussing its summer book: “Educated: A Memoir” by Tara Westover. This is the group’s third book since it began last fall.

“Educated” is a memoir about a girl who lives with survivalist parents, does not attend school until the age of 17 and then earns a PhD from Cambridge, according to the Jayhawk Book Club’s website.

In the past, the group has read “Every Note Played” by Lisa Genova and “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman. All of the books so far have explored themes such as freedom and humanity.

The KU Alumni Association partnered with KU Libraries to organize the club. Each semester, a KU Libraries employee makes the book selection and leads the discussion. This time, Leah Nelson Hallstrom, the communications coordinator for KU Libraries, and LeAnn Meyer, the communications manager, made the selection. Hallstrom is leading the discussions.

“KU Libraries were a great partner for KUAA because we have staff and faculty who are able to select engaging books and lead compelling discussions with the participants each semester,” Hallstrom said. “Each semester, a libraries employee will work with us to make a book selection that will speak to a wide range of audiences. We work to select diverse, interesting and appealing books for all who participate.”

The club was started by the Alumni Association, but is also open to students, staff and faculty.

“This is an opportunity for alumni and friends across the nation to read the same book together, but it can also bring those on campus in to the discussion as well,” Hallstrom said. “Students, faculty and staff are certainly encouraged to participate, and we would love to engage with them.”

The discussions for “Educated” began a few weeks ago, but those interested can still join the club and discussions by signing up for emails that list discussion questions for the week or joining the Facebook group.

According to Michelle Lang, director of alumni programs at the Alumni Association, members from anywhere in the world can contribute to the conversations as much or as little as they choose.

The club also plans to hold a reception when the group finishes the book at the end of the semester, as it has done for the two previous semesters.

“We’ve had in-person receptions at the end of each semester so far for local people. We get a fairly small group coming to those in-person discussions, but they’re meaningful,” Lang said. “Everyone’s sitting there discussing, and we feel like even though it’s a small percentage that comes to the in-person one, as long as they’re connecting in a meaningful way then it’s worth it for us.”

The club has between 800 and 850 participants so far and is growing steadily, Lang said. According to the Facebook page, 98 people have joined the Facebook group in the last 30 days, bringing the total to 773. That said, the group is still looking to grow.

“I don’t even have a goal, it’s just however many want to keep participating, great. I think the more we have obviously the better the discussions will be online,” Lang said. “A couple thousand participating would be awesome.”

In the future, the club is going to further provide ways for alumni to stay connected with current students by offering the annual KU common book as a bonus book, which will stand alongside the standard selections.