Literary Innovation: Oxford Book Club Review and Panoptica Magazine5th March 2017
The Oxford Book Club
The Oxford Book Club is a regular fixture in the Oxford literary scene, providing a popup bookshop run by students. The club is now expanding online in the form of a website in which students can share book reviews and explore new works, facilitated by co-editors Megan Husain, Victor Ajuwon, and Yashwina Canter. The ethos behind the website is to provide a space where book enthusiasts can connect, as they do in person at the book sales, with each other, and with books that have ‘changed them, redefined their perspective, or inspired infectious enthusiasm’.
Victor elaborates upon this sentiment, stating that the aim “is to provide a platform for really excited and interested students to share their views about books they love…almost everyone we know has complained at some point that they ‘never get to read for fun any more’, and The Oxford Book Club allows you to do that in a purposeful way”. Moreover, Megan stresses that “we’re really not looking for academic criticism. We just want to have the personal story behind your experience of a book – you don’t have to analyse the text, you just have to analyse your response to it”.
Indeed, even in its infancy the website already boasts a diverse array of genres, from musings on the lyrical style of Charles Darwin, to the nature book The Soul of the Octopus by Sy Montogomery about animal consciousness. Yashwina, the reviewer of the latter, is keen to encourage engagement with works that might not correspond to students’ academic disciplines – “any language, any genre, any form- whatever you’ve read that you’re excited about, we’re interested in”. This commitment extends to the dates of the books themselves, as whilst many book reviews “operate in tandem with the contemporary publishing cycle”, Yashwina explains, the book club is “not limited to the newest and trendiest texts”; the site encourages rediscovering of classics alongside a platform to share lesser known works. This inclusive approach means those interested in submitting a review do not need to scour the ‘new releases’ section of a bookshop, but can lay their hands on any and all texts that interest them. Readers wanting to get involved can visit The Oxford Book Club website or Facebook page.
Now online and in print, Panoptica Magazine, stylised as ‘PAN’, is an exciting newcomer to the magazine scene. The liberation politics and arts magazine, edited by Emmanuelle Soffe and Simran Uppal, is committed to the intersection of politics and aesthetics in Oxford and beyond. Its tagline ‘magazine, journal, art object’ encapsulates the publication’s open space for discussion alongside, and as a form of, art. The articles span genres from food to philosophy, whilst pieces span locations as diverse as Berlin, Beijing and Honolulu.
The sensory, exploratory commitment of the magazine is reflected in its organisation. Instead of breaking down articles by genre, they are grouped under the sensory headings ‘eye’, ‘soul’, ‘brain’, ‘skin’ and ‘tongue’. Browsing by sense throws up new and interesting connections between the different articles, for example viewing travel photographs under ‘Soul’, before encountering alongside it a discussion of the meaning of ‘travel’ as opposed to ‘tourism’. Likewise, an article on ‘art and safe space culture’ sits naturally alongside photography and MoMA features in the ‘eye’ section, stimulating questions about art, context and audience.
Poetry, feminism, bodies, Trump: PAN weaves seamlessly from article to article in exploring ideology but leaves the reader to mediate on many of the connections themselves, each page throwing up a new experience accompanied by striking visuals. Both Panoptica and The Oxford Book Club share a commitment to inclusivity, a privileging of exploring personal experience and thought outside of the constraints of genre, and new online and physical presence, which makes them exciting newcomers to the literary scene in and beyond Oxford.