Discussion Groups

Who’s ready to exchange ideas?  Connect with other members through discussion groups that foster conversations about literature, history, culture, art, and every topic under the sun.  

To join one of our discussion groups or make a suggestion about starting your own, contact Reader Services at (617) 720-7633 or serapilio@bostonathenaeum.org.

Groups have the option to meet remotely, in-person, or both through a hybrid solution. Please check any specific group listing to see how that group meets. This information is subject to change and will be updated as needed.

Based on the Book

The Based On The Book discussion group meets the fourth Tuesday of every month from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

Each month this group discusses a book of fiction and a movie based on the book. Each discussion is moderated by one of the group members. The book and movie pairs are selected by the discussion group. Some examples of book and movie pairs are Jane Austen Emma (1815) and the 1995 movie Clueless with Alicia Silverstone; Pierre Boulle, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1952) and the 1957 movie with Alec Guinness; Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It (1976) and the 1992 movie with Brad Pitt; Mario Puzo, The Godfather (1969) and the 1972 movie with Marlon Brando; Ian Fleming, Casino Royale (1953) and the 2006 movie with Daniel Craig; Ian McEwan, Atonement (2001) and the 2007 movie with Keira Knightley.

Thank you for your interest in this group! Unfortunately they are currently at capacity, but if you’d like to be contacted once space becomes available, please join our waitlist.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 25: Joseph Conrad, Nostromo; 1997 film
  • Nov. 22: James Joyce, The Dead; 1987 film
  • Dec. 27: John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; 2011 film
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Civil War

The Civil War Discussion Group meets the fourth Wednesday of every month at 6:00 p.m. as a remote only group. 

The group meets to discuss themes of the war broadly, such as leadership, battles, military matters, civilian and home front people and events, slavery, and pre-war and post-war politics. Come and enjoy a group that welcomes new members. Everybody learns something every time: a group of members, by the members, for the members.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 26: Personal Memoirs of General U.S. Grant
  • Nov. 16 (N.B. due to holiday the group will meet on the third Wednesday): Mark Bilelski, A Mortal Blow to the Confederacy: The Fall of New Orleans
  • Dec. 21 (N.B. due to holiday the group will meet on the third Wednesday): Dred Scott Forum: any sources, diverse points of view
  • Jan. 25: reading t.b.d.
  • Feb. 22: James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom
  • Mar. 22: James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom
  • Apr. 26:  David Dixon, The Lost Gettysburg Address: Charles Anderson’s Civil War
  • May 24: Brian H. Reid, The Scourge of War: The Life of W.T. Sherman
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Classics

The Ancient Greco-Roman Classical Literature Reading Group (“Classics”) will meet the second Tuesday of every month from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

The group will focus on Greek and Roman Literature in Translation and the Classical Tradition. Greco-Roman Literature encompasses epic poetry, love elegiacs, odes,  dramatic works, historical narratives, etc.

Participants must sign up in advance for the year. There is an annual fee of $100.

What We’re Reading

No October meeting

  • Nov. 8: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 1
  • Dec. 13: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 2
  • Jan. 10: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 3
  • Feb. 14: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 4
  • Mar. 14: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 5
  • Apr. 11: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 6
  • May 9: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 7
  • Jun. 13: Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, book 8
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Dickens

The Dickens discussion group will meet the first Thursday of every month from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely. 

Taking its keynote from the memorable Nabokov introduction in which he announced, ‘We are now ready to tackle Dickens. We are now ready to embrace Dickens. We are now ready to bask in Dickens,’ the group seeks to create a welcoming literary space where members may tackle, embrace, and bask in Dickens for years to come. 

The group is open to all levels of experience and interest in Dickens, from those who have never had the pleasure of meeting him at all, to those who had a brief acquaintance with him in school, to those many for whom he has become an old and very dear friend.

What We’re Reading

  • Nov. 3: Our Mutual Friend, part II
  • Dec. 1: “Mrs. Lirriper’s Lodgings” and/or “Mrs. Lirriper’s Legacy” N.B. this meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m
  • Jan. 5: George Gissing, New Grub Street
  • Feb. 2: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  • Mar. 2: Sketches by Boz, part I
  • Apr. 6: Sketches by Boz, part II
  • May 4: Wilkie Collins, Armadale, part I
  • Jun. 1: Wilkie Collins, Armadale, part II
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Fiction

The Fiction Discussion Group meets on the first Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely. Titles are suggested by members and then chosen to obtain a variety of authors, publication dates, themes, and lengths.

Thank you for your interest in this group! Unfortunately they are currently at capacity, but if you’d like to be contacted once space becomes available, please join our waitlist.

What We’re Reading

  • Nov. 7: William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow
  • Dec. 5: Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun
  • Jan. 9 (N.B. this is the second Monday): Toni Morrison, Jazz
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Literary Conversations

This thriving, 25-year old discussion group meets at 6:00 p.m. on the third Monday of each month to discuss works of literature selected by the group, from the ancient classics to contemporary best sellers. Members take turns leading the discussions and engage in active e-mail correspondence about the book currently being read. Our Literary Conversations continue at a local restaurant following the meeting, and all members are invited. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

Thank you for your interest in this group! Unfortunately they are currently at capacity, but if you’d like to be contacted once space becomes available, please join our waitlist.

What we’re reading:

Oct. 17: George Saunders, A Swim In A Pond In The Rain

Nov. 21: Isaac Babel, Red Cavalry And Other Stories

Dec. 19: Stefan Zweig, The Royal Game

Jan. 16: Albert Camus, The Plague

Feb. 20: Julian Barnes, The Man In The Red Coat 

Mar. 20: Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop

Apr. 18 (N.B. this is the third Tuesday): L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

May 15: Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master And Margarita

Jun. 20 (N.B. this is the third Tuesday): Shirley Hazzard, The Transit Of Venus

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Mathematics, Technology, & Society

The Mathematics, Technology & Society discussion group will meet the first Saturday of every month  from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and will consider mathematics and technology topics from historical and social perspectives. This group is remote only. 

Participation is encouraged by anyone interested in the history and impact of technology — no mathematics or computing expertise is required. Each meeting will focus on a different topic and background reading.

What We’re Reading

  • Nov. 5: Jeremy Desilva, First Steps, How Upright Walking Made Us Human
  • Dec. 3: Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition
  • Jan 7: Lulu Miller, Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life
  • Feb. 4: Marcelo Gleiser, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning
  • Mar. 4: Jackie Higgins, Sentient: How Animals Illuminate the Wonder of Our Human Senses
  • Apr. 1: Robert Hazen, Symphony in C: Carbon and the Evolution of (Almost) Everything
  • May 6: Erik Asphaug, When the Earth Had Two Moons: Cannibal Planets, Icy Giants, Dirty Comets, Dreadful Orbits, and the Origins of the Night Sky
Join Mathematics, Technology, & Society Now!
Mystery

Unless otherwise specified, the Mystery Discussion Group meets the last Monday of the month at 5:30 p.m. This group is remote only.  Titles are democratically selected and range from popular thrillers to quiet country investigations to literary prizewinners with a mystery element.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 31: Ian Rankin, Black and Blue
  • Nov. 28: Nicolas Freeling, Love In Amsterdam
  • Dec. 19 (N.B. this is the third Monday): Anne Perry, Christmas Garland
  • Jan. 30: Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night
  • Feb. 27: Antti Tuomainen, The Man Who Died
  • Mar. 27: Richard Osman, The Thursday Murder Club 
Join Mystery Today!
New England Seminar

The New England Seminar meets on the first Monday of the month at 6:00 p.m. This group is remote only. The Group reads fiction and non-fiction written about Boston and New England. Past selections include Santayana’s The Last Puritan, Louis Menand’s The Metaphysical Club, Dorothy West’s The Living Is Easy, William Dean Howells’, The Rise of Silas Lapham, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Collected Short Stories.

What We’re Reading

  • Nov. 7: Mark Frost, The Greatest Game Ever Played
  • Dec. 5: Jennifer Haigh, Mercy Street
  • Jan. 2: Martha Ackmann, These Fevered Days
  • Feb. 6: Deborah Cohen, Last Call at the Hotel Imperial
  • Mar. 6: Ann Petry, The Narrows
  • Apr. 3: Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain
  • May 1: Scott Borchert, Republic of Detours
  • Jun. 5: John Taylor Williams, Shores of Bohemia
Join New England Seminar Now!
One Night Only

One Night Only is a new series of occasional discussion groups offered in connection to Athenæum events, anniversaries, etc. The first begins in March 2022. No need to make a long-term commitment! Choose which topics suit you and your schedule.
The happenings will be listed here, on the Events calendar, and announced in our newsletter. We will meet in different spaces, depending on the subject.
These are free to members, but registration is required in order to prepare.
Have suggestions? Please let us know:  warnement@bostonathenaeum.org.

Send Suggestions Now!
Philosophy

The Philosophy Group meets on the third Thursday of every month at 6:00 p.m. unless otherwise specified. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

This discussion group is for people who wish to step back from their daily routines and take some time to examine the whys and hows in life. We will cast a wide net, from the Classics to current politics, and participants will be invited to suggest authors and topics of interest.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 20: A. C. Grayling, Wittgenstein: A Very Short Introduction
  • Nov. 17: Richard Rorty, Philosophy and Social Hope
  • Dec. 15: Aristotle, Poetics (preferably Oxford Classics edition)
  • Jan. 19: Kieran Setiya, Life Is Hard: How Philosophy Can Help Us Find Our Way
  • Feb. 16: Simon Blackburn, Think: A Compelling Introduction to Philosophy
  • Mar. 16: Roger Scruton, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction
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Poetry

The Poetry Study Group meets from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely. . A selection of poems will be distributed prior to each meeting.

What We’re Reading

Oct. 19: Stanley Kunitz

Nov. 16: Andrew Motion

Dec. 21: Keats: “The Eve of St. Agnes”

Jan. 18: Robert Frost

Feb. 15: Richard Wilbur

Mar. 15: Kenneth Rexroth

Apr. 19: Etel Adnan

May 17: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Jun. 21: Poets in dialogue (WWI): Isaac Rosenberg and Edward Thomas

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Proust Reading Group

Boston Athenæum members who are already Proust enthusiasts, and those who are aficionados-in-the-making, are invited to join The Proust Reading Group. Meetings generally take place on the last Tuesday afternoon of each month, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

In September 2022, we will begin The Captive in the Modern Library Edition. The Yale University Press edition of this volume will not have been published by September.

The Modern Library Edition is volume 5 of the series, and also includes The Fugitive. The text is translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, and revised by D. J. Enright. The ISBN is 0-375-75311-7.

The group is led by Proust scholar Dr. Hollie Markland Harder, who is the director of language programs and Associate Professor of French at Brandeis University. Her work on Proust includes articles on Françoise’s cooking (“Proust’s Novel Confections: Françoise’s Cooking and Marcel’s Book,” which appeared in Modern Language Studies) and the function of humor in Proust’s novel (“Proust’s Human Comedy,” published in The Cambridge Companion to Proust).

Participants must sign up in advance for the year. There is a fee of $100 per year. Anyone interested should contact the Circulation Desk at (617) 227-0270 x279 or email harder@brandeis.edu.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 25: pp. 63–123
  • Nov. 29: pp. 123–184
  • Dec. 20 (N.B. this is the Third Tuesday): pp. 184–246
  • Jan. 31: pp. 246–313
  • Feb. 28: pp. 313–372
  • Mar. 28: pp. 372–433
  • Apr. 25: pp. 433–497
  • May 23 (N.B. this is the Fourth, but not Last, Tuesday): pp. 497–559

 

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Proust Selected Studies Group

Boston Athenæum members who are already Proust enthusiasts, and those who are aficionados-in-the-making, are invited to join The Proust Selected Studies Group. The group typically meets the second Tuesday of some months, from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

The group is led by Proust scholar Dr. Hollie Markland Harder, who is the director of language programs and Associate Professor of French at Brandeis University. Her work on Proust includes articles on Françoise’s cooking (“Proust’s Novel Confections: Françoise’s Cooking and Marcel’s Book,” which appeared in Modern Language Studies) and the function of humor in Proust’s novel (“Proust’s Human Comedy,” published in The Cambridge Companion to Proust).

Participants must sign up in advance for the year. There is a fee of $100 per year. Anyone interested should contact the Circulation Desk at (617) 227-0270 x279 or email harder@brandeis.edu.

This group is on hiatus for the current 2022/2023 season but will likely return for the 2023/2024 season.

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Shakespeare

The Shakespeare Discussion Group meets the second Wednesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

Every year we select a range of plays, each of which is read over two months. A play leader pre-circulates background readings, talking points, and questions, as well as the scenes to be read in plenary. Everyone has a chance to read, although anyone who would prefer not to is free to pass. Reading aloud helps to take us off the page and breathes life into the words themselves. Discussions are guided by the play leader and group moderator and generally flow organically.

There is no requirement of familiarity with Shakespeare’s works in order to join our discussions. We recommend the Arden edition if you are acquiring a new text.

Thank you for your interest in this group! Unfortunately they are currently at capacity, but if you’d like to be contacted once space becomes available, please join our waitlist.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 12: Julius Caesar
  • Nov. 9: Antony and Cleopatra
  • Dec. 14: Antony and Cleopatra
  • Jan. 11: The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • Feb. 8: The Two Gentlemen of Verona
  • Mar. 8: King Lear
  • Apr. 12: King Lear
  • May 10: Henry VIII
  • Jun. 14: Henry VIII
  • Jul. 12: Sonnets
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Short & Sweet

Short & Sweet meets remote only the fourth Thursday (with exceptions noted below) of each month at 6:00 p.m.

“If I had more time, this would be shorter.” Just because something is a quick read does not mean it can be easily appreciated.

During the stay-at-home advisory, we initiated a new weekly discussion group, Short & Sweet, to connect via videoconference with readers while respecting social distancing. Now that we move toward a “new normal,” we’ll plan to meet once a month, on the fourth Thursday of the month when possible, via videoconference for the foreseeable future.

What We’re Reading 

  • Oct. 27 Edith Wharton, “The Pelican”
  • No November meeting
  • No December meeting



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Social Justice Initiative

Sponsored by the Boston Athenæum Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion Working Group.

Interested in social justice issues? So are we! The Boston Athenæum’s Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion (DEAI) Working Group invites you to join our Social Justice Initiative. We’ll meet once a month to discuss a variety of materials and resources aimed at deepening our understanding of social justice and increasing our cultural competencies. Join us every Third Wednesday at noon.

The Social Justice Initiative welcomes new participants, so please, join us! You can reach us at deai@bostonathenaeum.org.

This group is currently on hiatus. Stay tuned for updates! 

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Trollope

The Trollope Discussion Group meets the first Tuesday of every month at 6:00 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely. Over the past several years, Boston Athenæum Trollope enthusiasts have completed all of Trollope’s novels, yet many have decided to read them all over again. Sometimes the group complements their reading list with another contemporary novelist or a biography.

What We’re Reading

  • Nov. 1: Brown, Smith and Robinson
  • Dec. 6: The Claverlings
  • Jan. 3: Lady Anna

For the winter/spring, we may read, in an order to be determined:

  • Feb. 7: He Knew He Was Right: This is a controversial book, and we should discuss whether we will read it.
  • Mar. 7: Dr. Wortle’s School
  • Apr. 4: Miss MacKenzie
  • May 2: Armadale, by Wilkie Collins
  • Jun 6: reading t.b.d.



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Ulysses

The Ulysses Discussion Group will meet the second Thursday of every month from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. remote only. 

Reading Challenge: Ulysses 

James Joyce’s Ulysses turns 100 in 2022. The torturous story of its publication and subsequent banning seems almost as complicated as the text itself has seemed to generations of students. Always wanted to give it a(nother) try? Take the time to explore this classic by reading aloud and discussing with fellow curious members. The Ulysses group will meet once a month at 6:00 p.m. on the Second Thursday of the month from January through December—or whenever finished.   

There are many editions of Ulysses  (and discussing those may be part of the fun), but as a starting point, we suggest using the Random House 1961 version. 

This group decides what they are reading from month to month. 

Thank you for your interest in this group! Unfortunately they are currently at capacity, but if you’d like to be contacted once space becomes available, please join our waitlist.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 13 The “Wandering Rocks,” episode 
  • Nov. 10 
  • Dec. 8
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World War I

This discussion group was established in honor of the centenary of the August 1914 outbreak of World War I. Titles will be chosen democratically by group members. The group will meet the first Saturday of each month from 10:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

What We’re Reading

Nov. 5: Elizabeth Cobbs, Hello Girls: America’s First Women Soldiers

Dec. 3: Adam Hochschild, American Midnight

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World War II

When Big Ben tolls DONG,DONG,DONG, This is London Calling—-August 20, 1940 “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” The Group will meet on the third Saturday of the month at 10:30 a.m. This group meets using a hybrid solution. You can attend in person or connect remotely.

What We’re Reading

  • Oct. 15: Chester Nez, Code Talker
  • Nov. 19: Sean McMeekin, Stalin’s War: A New History of WWII, pps. 1–347
  • Dec. 17: Sean McMeekin, Stalin’s War: A New History of WWII, pps. 347–650
  • Jan. 21: Walter Ford Carter, No Greater Sacrifice, No Greater Love
  • Feb. 18: Virginia Cowles, Looking For Trouble
  • Mar. 18: Malcolm Gladwell, The Bomber Mafia
  • Apr. 15: Joseph Balkoski, Omaha Beach: D-day June 6, 1944
  • May 20: Srinath Raghaven, India’s War: World War II and the Making of Modern South Asia
  • Jun. 17: Michael Neiberg, When France Fell: the Vichy Crisis and the Fate of the Anglo-American Alliance

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Writers’ Workshop

The Writers’ Workshop meets the second Saturday of every month from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. remote only. 

How are things? That latest piece talking to you yet? Or perhaps you’re talking to yourself? It gets lonely in that writing corner after a while with nobody to bounce ideas off of. Maybe it’s time to come up for air, commune with other writers, and discuss the work in an informal and encouraging atmosphere. Writers of all stripes are welcome!

Each season is divided into trimesters, allowing members to join in September, January, or May, with the understanding that they will be committed to the group for the following four months. Sign-ups are on the first day of each trimester, and we will receive submissions from members in the previous group for that first meeting.

  • Oct. 8 Session 1 Fall/Winter Trimester
  • Nov. 12 Session 2 Fall/Winter Trimester
  • Dec. 10 Session 3 Fall/Winter Trimester
  • Jan. 14 Session 4 Fall/Winter Trimester
  • Feb. 11 Session 1 Winter/Spring Trimester
  • Mar. 11 Session 2 Winter/Spring Trimester
  • Apr. 8 Session 3 Winter/Spring Trimester
  • May 13 Session 4 Winter/Spring Trimester
  • Jun. 10 Session 1 Spring/Summer
  • Jul. 8 Session 2 Spring/Summer
  • Aug. 12 Session 3 Spring/Summer
  • Sep. 9 Session 4 Spring/Summer
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