Another Look celebrates 10 years
Eclectic and unscalable, the Another Look event series taps into the joy of sharing the solitary act of reading. The 10th anniversary event, which will feature the 1940 novella The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story, takes place on Wednesday October 5th at 7 p.m.
Ten years ago this fall, Tobias Wolff paused in the hallway after a faculty meeting in Margaret Jacks Hall to talk with a few colleagues about a book. The discussion grew animated. For a group of English professors, it was a strikingly unacademic conversation, recalls Wolff, then head of Stanford’s Creative Writing Program. It was just thoughtful readers sharing how a book had affected them. “I left thinking, ‘what a wonderful conversation that was. I wish I could have more conversations like this.’ ”
A few conversations later, the Another Look book club was born – a series of meetings for talking about books in a way that recalls the primal joy of reading. Wolff, a renowned author and the recipient of the National Medal of Arts, would invite panelists to join him in conversation. The meetings would be open to anyone who wanted to attend. The books would be short – ideally fewer than 200 pages – so attendees could find time to read them and come prepared to join the conversation. And they would be books Wolff himself was excited to re-read.
Since it was founded, Another Look has discussed books spanning four centuries and three continents by authors including Philip Roth, Albert Camus, and Zora Neil Hurston. Each is a masterpiece of sorts, said Robert Pogue Harrison, author and professor emeritus of Italian literature, who took over as director of Another Look in 2015. They include novels that have faded into obscurity, novels you haven’t read since college, some that never got the attention they merited, and a few that have fallen victim to their own renown, such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. “It’s surprising how few people have actually read that book,” said Harrison. “Everyone thinks they know the story, which is maybe why so few people have actually bothered to read it, but it’s an extraordinary and surprising book.”
The only other limitation is that the book has to be in print, with 200 to 300 copies available. “That might sound kind of obvious because most people imagine the warehouses have big piles of books, but we’ve had a surprising number of books we couldn’t do because there weren’t enough books,” said Cynthia Haven, a scholar in the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, and the administrative head of Another Look. “You think that things won’t disappear, but they do, regularly.”
A book club in name only
Another Look has discussed Madame de LaFayette’s Princesse de Clèves, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, and Walter Tevis’s The Queen’s Gambit, among other titles, and hosted a roster of faculty panelists that includes the late poet Eavan Boland, professor of English; then-assistant Professor of English Vaughn Rasberry; and Herant Katchadourian, professor emeritus of psychiatry and human biology, who offered a psychologist’s perspective on Dostoevsky’s The Double. Guest panelists have included authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman; novelist, journalist, and editor Vendela Vida; and Werner Herzog – all of them, says Wolff, “lively and insightful and dynamic, not just in their reading, but in their way of talking about what they’ve read.”
Another Look is better described as a free event series than a book club – there are no dues, no potluck dishes, and no popular best-sellers. Supported by Continuing Studies, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Dean of Humanities, the series struck a chord with the surrounding community. Pre-pandemic, attendees came from as far away as Santa Cruz and Monterey to participate, said Harrison, and Another Look has received national and international press. “To me, it was a revelation about how many people are so committed to literature and the experience of reading a novel,” Harrison said. “When you read it alone, you want to share your understanding of it and your perspective on it, and you want to see what other people think.”
About half of each 90-minute meeting is allotted for community discussion. “We always end with questions yet unanswered,” Haven said.
“There’s a kind of energy in the room and a sense of excitement, really a sense of discovery,” Wolff said. “We aren’t just delivering little mini essays that show how smart we are. We’re really exploring the work together and benefiting from the thinking of the readers who come on those nights, and when someone strikes the work at an angle that you haven’t quite seen before, that’s so exciting.”
The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story
Another Look’s 10th-anniversary event will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 5, at Levinthal Hall in the Stanford Humanities Center. It will feature Glenway Wescott’s 1940 novella The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story, which tells the story of a single afternoon in a French country house in the 1920s.
“The Pilgrim Hawk is deceptively complex; most of the story’s meaning lies under the surface,” Harrison said.
Joining Wolff, Harrison, and Haven on the panel will be Steve Wasserman, former book editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review and editor at large for the Yale University Press. The event, which will also be livestreamed, is sponsored by the Continuing Studies Program, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages. Register for the virtual or in-person event.