Spotlight on Research: Ten-Minute Book Club

“Tuesday morning, at eight o’clock, I crossed the threshold of the White House for the first time.”

(Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes)

He had come nearer the edge of the sea and wet sand slapped his boots. The new air greeted him, harping in wild nerves, wind of wild air of seeds of brightness.”

(James Joyce, Ulysses)

“In those sombre forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself,—darkly as through a veil; and yet he saw in himself some faint revelation of his power, of his mission.”

(W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk; all taken from excerpts for the Ten-Minute Book Club)

Ten Minute Book Club logo

Literature can be a way to open doors and to cross new thresholds: to expand our horizons even while our physical movement is limited. Intrigued by a reported 2020 rise in ‘virtual’ book clubs , Ten-Minute Book Club (TMBC) sought to use reading to facilitate this travel and spark emotional connection. A lockdown idea from the Faculty of English and Professor Karen O’Brien, Head of Humanities at Oxford, TMBC provided weekly resources for book clubs, with one key difference: rather than a full novel, the text each week only takes about ten minutes to read. At a time when the pressures of lockdown made long, intense stretches of reading harder , TMBC was designed to access the benefits of reading but with no huge commitment and no prior knowledge required. For ten weeks in Summer 2020, (August-September), Ten-Minute Book Club shared a new text on the web and through social media channels. You can browse it anytime on the English Faculty website:

The ten weekly excerpts feature introductions, ‘DIY bookclub’ questions, and further reading suggestions, all written and compiled by experts from Oxford’s Faculty of English, in text or audio form. The texts are chosen from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries so that free links to the full texts could be provided. A mixture of well-known works and literature that deserves more prominence, these works foreground the global history of literature in English, highlighting authors from all over the world, including New Zealand, Ireland, the Caribbean, India, the United States, and the UK. TMBC came into being during important international Black Lives Matter protests as well as during the pandemic – two defining events in our collective experience. In choosing the writers to highlight for this project, the project sought to speak to the urgency and importance of working to decolonise the curriculum.

The full list featured excerpts from the following extraordinary pieces of literature in a wide range of genres, including novels, poetry, essays, short stories, and autobiographies: The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois; The Royal Ascetic and the Hind, by Toru Dutt: The History of Mary Prince, one of the earliest slave narratives by abolitionist Mary Prince; ‘The Knight’s Tale by Geoffrey Chaucer and a reimagining of the poem ‘Emily’ by English Faculty alumna and celebrated writer Patience Agbabi; The Interesting Narrative by Olaudah Equiano; ‘The Fly’ by Katherine Mansfield; Behind the Scenes; or Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley; Ulysses by James Joyce; Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Ten-Minute Book Club draws on LitHits, a digital reading project founded by Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr and Dr Alexandra Paddock, with an app due to be launched in 2021. LitHits provided the model for TMBC as a way to give readers quick, curated bursts of exciting reading. Interested readers can sign up to the LitHits mailing list via the website.

Led by Prof. Shepherd-Barr and Prof. O’Brien, TMBC resources were coordinated by Dr Paddock and Dr Erica Lombard, created by members of the Faculty of English, and supported by Oxford's Great Writers Inspire, Writers Make Worlds, the Faculty of English and the Humanities Division at Oxford University. Plans for a Season 2 of Ten-Minute Book Club in 2021 are underway.