Recapping the Autumn Quarter Book Club with Michael Koss

On September 30th, the Book Club met for its third discussion, this time diving into George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Michael Koss attended the discussion, led by English Department professor Anne Clark Bartlett, and gives us the rundown below. 


One does not attend Book Club for the food. One does not immediately feast on said food when A Song of Ice and Fire is up for discussion at Book Club.

George R. R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series—the source material for HBO’s Game of Thrones—has a tendency to bring narrative meals especially full of the macabre and morose into readers’ literary realms. But we love him for it all the more. Since the Nineties, Martin has immersed readers in his fictional Westeros—a world not historically far from our own—fattening his characters and us with indulgent paragraphs of feasts in high halls, educating us on histories we wished we learned in school, and impaling us, too, with the sharp knives that often lacerate our favorite characters. No serious reader of Martin’s would deny this along-for-the-ride empathy; we’ve all felt it before. (Ned!) Martin’s talent for making the mortal end so vivacious and eternal, still raging in our minds, fresh and clear and red, even after a thousand pages of his novels have passed, is part of what makes A Song of Ice and Fire so addictive and engrossing, like a meal you want to last forever.

Back at the Book Club, in time, the food was eaten, the Reins of Castamere without orchestration, and the group next tucked into hearty discussion. Contrasts between the books and HBO’s interpretation were noted—naturally, favor stood by the books—and there developed an agreement, or an awareness, at least, that Martin’s massively successful series was about more than jousts and intrigues, though they do satisfy the aspiring knights and Machiavellians in most of us.

Martin’s books are about humans, symptomatic and nuanced. Black and white characters rarely exist in Westeros, and those that might at first glance seem so are worthy of a second look. Their identities are cast through a prism, and they play across the page in a mess of shades. The group considered the subtlety with which Martin crafted this dynamic, noting that their misdoings, as in, say, the case of Jamie Lannister, come from a familial instinct. Protecting the family. Protecting Cersei. In this way, Jamie’s actions—as crippling and murderous as they have been—are grounded. He is not an animal. His actions may be unforgivable, but they are understandable. In characters like these, Martin displays a nuanced world populated by characters in whom we recognize ourselves.

Considering this, I recall my mother asking, on several occasions, about Martin’s work, grimacing as she inquires. “I don’t understand why you like that show”—in her mind, the books and shows are one in the same; to a point, she is right— “Is anyone good?”

“Is anyone bad?”

The answer, I think, is no. While we may wholeheartedly despise any one of Martin’s characters that are still alive, in each and every one there is, if one reads carefully enough, an underpinning purpose, a rationale for their actions. Evil for the sake of evil is boring. Good for the sake of good is predictable. Martin has brought us a world that is both fantastical, far beyond the average readers’ reality and a near-perfect mirror image of our own actual reality.

The Book Club on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire produced a nuanced discussion on a book series that can, at times, be overlooked for its untraditional approach to high fantasy. It was a discussion that amused, enlightened, and was appreciated for the complexity it emphasized in a series that works very hard to emphasize characters as people—as us.

Michael Koss

Autumn Quarter Book Club: A Song of Ice and Fire

The autumn 2015 English Department Book Club selection is George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series! Last year’s winter quarter discussion of the first book in the series was so popular that we’ve decided to discuss the series in its entirety.

The Book Club discussion will be Wednesday, September 30th, 2015 from 6-7:30pm in Richardson 115. The discussion will be led by Profs Anne Clark Bartlett and Jaime Hovey. There will of course be snacks and fellow book lovers galore!

See flyer below and be sure to contact Professor Conary ( with any questions.

We hope to see you there!

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TONIGHT! English Department Book Club: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban!

The English Department’s last sponsored event of the school year is tonight! Join us for our Spring Quarter Book Club meeting where we’ll be discussing the third book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. 

Professor Rebecca Johns-Trissler will be leading the informal discussion. Refreshments will be provided (rumor has it it’s going to be the enormous cupcakes you all know and love). It’s sure to be a fun chat about a wonderful book!


Spring Quarter Book Club: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Tuesday May 12th)


Undergrounders, we hope you are excited as we are about the Spring Quarter edition of Book Club! Event details are in the flyer above; visit the blog page for even further info. We hope you’ll join us for this great opportunity to discuss a key component of a wonderful and influential series!

Winter Quarter Welcome and News

Greetings, Undergrounders! Welcome back. We hope you’ve had a happy and safe holiday season and a pleasing respite from the rigors of academia. Amid the flurries of snow is a flurry of activity as the quarter gets underway. Here are the happenings!

You’ll see an influx of posts regarding calls for papers and submissions for a variety of writing contests and seminars, most of which are undergraduate-specific. We try to alert you all to these as they are a great way to add to your CV/resume, prepare for possible graduate study, PLUS, many of these deadlines are in January and February–the coldest time of year here in Chiberia. Take advantage of little reason to venture outside and get your work and words out there!

The last day to add courses is coming fast: Friday, January 9th. If you are still shopping around, please be sure to see the Winter Quarter English Undergraduate course listings here. A number of fantastic and interesting courses are waiting for you.

The Winter Quarter Book Club’s discussion of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones will be held Wednesday, January 14th at 6pm in Richardson 400. There will be snacks, of course, and the discussion will be led by Professors Anne Bartlett and Rebecca Johns-Trissler.

A few prize pieces of featured Autumn Quarter student writing are now available for your reading pleasure on the Student Writing page and in individual posts. Remember, we are proud and pleased to feature the work of English majors and minors here at the Underground but we need your submissions to make it all work.

Please join the Department of English in welcoming Professor Francesca Royster, Ph.D., to her new role as Department Chair and wishing Professor Lucy Rinehart, Ph.D., best of luck in her new role as Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences! It’s pretty neat to have an English Department person at the helm of the good ship CLA&S and Prof. Royster will surely be great as Chair.

That’s about all for now, everyone. Have a great start to the quarter!

English Department Book Club

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Hello Undergrounders! Hope the end of the quarter is not too full of insanity..and if it is, take comfort in the fact that break and over a month of time to read for pleasure is upon us!

Why not hunker down with a great book–A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin–and join Professors Bartlett and Johns-Trissler in January for a discussion?

This is the English Department Book Club’s first selection, and we hope you’ll come along for the ride. Check back for the location and START READING!