MadLab may sometimes come across intimidatingly techy, a bit too geeky, too computer based, but actually it has also attracted a fair amount of book clubs. Sci Fiction Book Club, Skeptical Literature Book Group, MadGraphic Novel Group all still demonstrate interest that seems to go with the idea of a digital laboratory. Reading Groups in general are increasingly popular all over the country and there is a reason – through discussion more can be get out of a book than reading alone. A book club can mean a lot, it can go from simple discussion group to the idea of de-constructing literature. Three reading groups coming together in MadLab seem to have found their special focus. There hasn’t been much border crossing co-operation between these groups, but that could be something to plan for the future.
Mad Graphic Novel Group
Comic strip as a medium has a variety of outputs – from the back pages of daily newspapers to the more extensive graphic novels (and a long list of things in between). On the first Tuesday of every month starting from the spring 2010 Madlab has been hosting a group of people interested in meeting fellow appreciators of graphic novels and discussing what happened when ‘comics started to take themselves seriously’ and developed into a book-length comic books dealing with a wide variety of fun, dark, adventurous subjects. For quite a while graphic novels have been considered to be a valid form of contemporary writing and art – the comic book artist Will Eisener, who stands behind coining the term, has claimed that the medium has taken a journey from ‘literary fast food’ to being acceptable popular literature. In addition to a strong group of serious fans and followers, the libraries facilitating better and better collections are demonstrating this tendency. But even though graphic novels can not be disdained as cheap entertainment for kids, the fun is not gone. Definitely not.
The meet-up has taken off quite well and has a strong group of regulars, but every new face to join the discussion is welcomed to come and share their insights. New faces, new people always add to the discussion. As the melder of the group, Arun, has said:’It is interesting to see different appreciators of comics in different ways. There are ones that have been reading comics from a young age, people who have got into comics in their teenage years and the ones who are new to the field and are just looking for good books to read.’ The spectrum of interest is wide – though many graphic novels deal with serious, dark subjects the superheroes are definitely not dead – the versatility of the medium offering adventure, horror, experimental comics has kept the discussion in the meetings alive and passionate. So far the group has dismantled and put back together the following:
- Alan Moore ‘From Hell’
- Frank Miller ‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’
- David Mazzucchelli ‘Asterios Polyp’
- Alison Bechdel ‘Fun Home’
- Juan Diaz Canales ‘Blacksad’
- Grant Morrison ‘Doom Patrol’
- Grant Morrison, Frank Quietly ‘We3′
- Brian K Vaughan, Niko Henrichson ‘Pride of Bagdad’
- Art Speigelman ‘Maus’
- Alan Moore ‘The Ballad of Halo Jones’
- Guy Delisle ‘Pyongyang’
- Richard Stark ‘Parker the Hunter’
- Will Eisner ‘A Contract With god and Other Tenement Stories’
- Kurt Busiek “Astro City”
- Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly ‘Local’
- Chris Ware ‘Jimmy Corrigan. The Smartest kid On Earth’
But the plan is not to stay put, but to branch it out, get more interdisciplinary. Those interested are probably well aware of the impact of graphic novels on popular culture. Since the comic book world has a close link and a strong impact on the film industry, there has been a big enthusiasm in Hollywood to take on comic books(the list of important names would be too long..but ‘From Hell’ being one of the early ones and such masterpieces like ‘Persepolis’ later are known to most). The idea is to look into how a completely different medium is used to demonstrate the ‘comic bookness’ and integrate this into the discussion group. In addition to organising film nights in Madlab there could also be film-go nights out. Members of the group find that it would be also good to start a trading network – there are a lot of graphic novels which are hard to get a hold on, but many have a personal love for. But it does not have to stop there, the graphic novel geeks wouldn’t mind a field trip or a workshop.
Sci-Fiction Book Club
No-one really remembers how it started and the definition of science fiction could be argued about for hours, but what is clear, is that once a month a group of people gather in MadLab to discuss a book which they categorise under the genre and find interesting enough. There are two key things that make a book club work: one is the people and the atmosphere created and second is the books chosen. One of the things that might refrain a book club from working is access to books – the science fiction book club is lucky enough to cooperate with Manchester Central Library who has offered to buy the needed books.
The book club emerged almost with the beginning of MadLab and since then it has gone through more than a dozen books. All the contemporary media channels are involved – people get drawn into the group through the google group and twitter feed, but further from there it seems to organize itself. On every meeting a book is discussed, which has been chosen by one of the members who also has to advocate it. One of the things that the group tries to be quite strict about and has managed to do it so far, is to make sure that things read are science -fiction. The discussion hits off from few basic questions such as who read it, who liked it and continues in an informal way. The group is casual and welcoming, so no reason to be afraid to join in.
Some of the books discussed so far:
- Greg Bear “Anvil of Stars”
- Philip K Dick “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep”
- Neil Stevenson “Snowcrash”
- Stanislav Lem “The Cyberiad”
- Lois McMaster Bujold “Falling Free”
- Isaac Asimov “I Robot”
- Will Self “Book of Dave”
- Iain M. Banks “Feersum Endjin”
- Iain. M Banks “The Player of Games”
- Adam Roberts “Swiftly”
- Paolo Bacigalupi “The Windup Girl”
- Andreas Eschbach “The Carpet Makers”
- J.G Ballard “The Drowned World”
- Arthur C. Clarke “The Space Odyssey”
- Chiena Mieville “The City & The City”
- William Gibson “Neuromancer”
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SkepLit Book Group is a relatively new endeavour meeting in MadLab since spring 2011 and the ideas and themes discussed so far promise an interesting future. The group is an offshoot of the Greater Manchester Sceptics Society, which has been a long time promoter of science and education. The book club brings together those who are interested in discussing books dealing with such subjects as science and pseudo-science, spirituality, conspiracy theories, personal development etc. The varied interests are driven by the idea of scepticism and critical thinking and in general the group avoids fiction.
Like the other book groups meeting in MadLab the format is casual and free. There isn’t a particular author giving a talk or presenting a specific viewpoints, the focus is on the opinions of the participants. The discussions are moderated by the author and the organiser of the group, Joley Black, who tries to make sure that everyone gets their say. Each meeting consists of discussing and analysing one pre-picked book which hopefully has been read by most of the participants. But the subjects of discussions are often so universal that this is not the first requirement. Among others the group has organised an atheist picnic to discuss about religion, talked about artificial intelligence and ethics and so forth. Most important is to have general knowledge about the theme and some opinions to get the discussion going. So far this has proved not to be a problem. The discussions have been lively and often straggling over the central subject of the meeting. The group has also organised a joint meet-up with the manchester Girl Geeks contributing to the idea of cooperation between groups in MadLab. And finally, everyone is welcome to join in the discussions, it is all about enhancing critical thinking.
Some of the books discussed so far are:
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The ‘Readers’ groups also have a strong social aspect to them – as well as helping to get more out of a book they bring together like minded people – the discussions often continue in the pub across the street and sometimes float away from literature. Science fiction, graphic novels are not themes tied to one medium.